Coffee is a universal beverage – almost everyone gets to work after grabbing a cup of coffee every morning. But there is much more coffee can give us than just a fresh kick-start. The used coffee grounds are known to be converted into use such as water filters, carbon-capture media, and road material. But one significant derivation out of coffee waste that is gaining traction in smart cities is the biofuel.
That’s true! Coffee waste can be treated chemically to produce environmental friendly biofuel. Biofuel, in general, has a huge potential to generate green energy that powers vehicles. It can curb the use of fossil fuels, waste management issues, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately slow down the speed of global warming. They are extremely affordable, clean and non-toxic version of fuel. The biofuel burns more efficiently than the fossil fuels and as a result, they do not have a negative impact on the environment when being used.
The very recent invention of coffee-derived biofuel has caught the eye of the smart cities. How coffee waste is used to produce biofuel and which cities have already started its use is an interesting story discussed ahead.
Coffee Waste Converted To Biofuel – Simplified
In general, producing biofuel from used coffee grounds is a complex process. However, the team of researchers at the Lancaster University in the UK have simplified the process. Dr. Vesna Najdanovic-Visak and the team developed a proprietary technique called as in-situ transesterification. The technique merges the process of oil extraction and oil conversion to biofuel into a single step.
Initially, the used grounds are mixed with hexane and then heated to 60 ºC (140 ºF) for about one or two hours in order to extract oils from it (But the Lancaster team reduced the time of extraction of oil from 1-2 hours to just 10 minutes.) The next step involves evaporation of hexane resulting in the leftover of oils. Proceeding further, methanol and a catalyst are added to the oils to produce biofuel – in the process glycerol is received as a by-product. The final step involves separation of glycerol from the biofuel.
The new method greatly reduces the time as well cost involved in extracting the oils from coffee waste to create biofuel. The Lancaster’s version is much more commercially competitive and easy to produce. Million tons of coffee waste that is dumped in landfills can now be conserved to be used as an environmentally beneficial biofuel.
London’s Traditional Double-Decker Buses Powered With Biofuel
An innovative start-up Bio-bean partnered with Royal Dutch Shell and the fuel maker Argent Energy to present its first batch of coffee-derived biofuel in November 2017. Since then, the city authorities have mandated the use of the biofuel in few of the double-decker buses of London.
Bio-beans concept of producing biofuel comes from drying and processing the coffee waste prior to extracting its oil which is carried out by its partner Argent Energy. The end-product is the oil that is processed into a blended B20 biofuel. The B20 biofuel is a combination of pure bio-component derived from coffee and the mineral diesel. Even if the extracted oils release the coffee aroma, the addition of mineral diesel and further distillation process removes the aroma. So, there is no chance you will have to smell the odour while you stroll in the city.
The first batch prepared by Bio-bean produced 6000 litres of biofuel that is sufficient to power one London bus for a year. Going further, the start-up has created thousands of litres of B20 biofuel which is now helping a few buses in London to run with green energy.
This initiative sets an explicit example of how waste can be re-imagined as an eco-friendly resource. It also showcases how notoriously polluted cities like London can make use of coffee waste and bring green buses on the roads. The potential is extremely high in places where coffee is consumed as a staple beverage. Just like in South Africa where more than 3 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year.
As far as London’s consumption level is concerned, an average Londoner drinks 2 to 3 cups of coffee every day (Fine Dining Lovers report). Eventually, this produces 200,000 tonnes of coffee waste annually. If this coffee waste is dumped in a landfill, it has the tendency to emit 126 million kg of carbon dioxide poisoning increasing threat to climate change.
Hence, to avoid the coffee waste from going into the landfill, Bio-bean has partnered with waste management companies, high street coffee shops, factories and more to collect coffee waste.
For example, Costa Coffee partnered with the start-up in 2016 for the collection of the coffee waste. Today, more than 3,000 tonnes of coffee waste is being collected from the Costa Coffee sites in the whole of UK. The step taken by Costa Coffee is preventing 360 tonnes of carbon emissions from releasing into the environment each year. This initiative is nearly equal to planting a forest with a size of 95 football pitches.
Another contribution can be seen from Kahaila Cafe, a small coffee shop in London that is providing the coffee waste to Bio-bean since 2016. In the beginning, the shop filled more than 400 waste bags which were equivalent to 2 tonnes of used coffee grounds. By doing so, the shop has seen its costs spent on waste disposal and carbon footprint coming down.
Another major contribution is coming from Network Rail in London. Hundred of tonnes of coffee waste is being produced as passengers move to and fro daily. Prior to partnering with Bio-bean, the Network Rail had to spend a substantial amount to waste management companies for disposing of the waste into landfills. But since 2015, the Network has been providing the start-up with coffee waste collected from all coffee shops in six of the busiest train stations in London. Until now, more than 10 million coffee cups with 868 tonnes of coffee waste has been collected and processed as a biofuel – resulting in waste disposal savings of £34,000.
Vaasa – A Small City Powering Its Public Transport With Biofuel Since The Beginning Of 2017
Vaasa, with a population of 66,000 is a small city in Finland that has set a great example of how even a small urban region can truly be called a smart city. Since February 2017, the city deployed 12 new buses that run with biofuel.
The city of Vaasa gathers organic waste directly from the citizens and uses the waste to convert it into biofuel. After the production, the buses are re-filled overnight at the depot – ready to run with clean and green energy the next day. The entire process of waste collection, biofuel production, and maintenance of green buses is carried out within the city limits. In fact, the city is able to produce enough biofuel that can be sold to private customers. The pace at which the city is executing the entire process will no sooner show the world a place where only biofuel-based vehicles are operated.
The transport system is the lifeblood of smart cities. It’s the most vital system of communication within and between cities. So, it’s the best way cities can start mitigating negative environmental impact with the help of biofuel.