Are Coffee Grounds the New Ethanol?

June 08, 2011

There’s gold in those coffee grounds! We’ll never look at them the same again. We’ve discussed the ways to recycle coffee grounds before, primarily in compost and building up the soil. Now, because scientists are finding little critters that eat caffeine, they are learning how to break caffeine down into other reusable products, from drugs to fuel. According to Jennifer Brown at the U of Iowa, researchers found four organisms that degrade caffeine. They are excited because the new understanding of the degradation process opens up new doors for discovering how leftover coffee and tea waste, and even chocolate waste (can there be such a thing?), could be the basic materials for other substances such as pharmaceuticals, animal feed or biofuels. There is something quite perplexing in the message of this article. The scientists talk of recycling the used grounds into biofuels, but they have much study left before this can be done. At least this is implied. However, on the same day as this story was released, other stories coming from Japan inform us that used coffee grounds are already being used as fuel. Maybe it’s a case of necessity speeds up invention, as Japan has been forced to quickly find new energy sources after losing the power generated by its nuclear plants that were rendered unusable after the tsunami. A steel works company, Sumitomo Metal, is using coffee grounds as a biomass fuel to power its Kashima plant. At this point, the coffee fuel is only one percent of the total fuel needed by the plant, but they hope to increase the proportion as they go. Their plan is to buy up to 12,000 tons of grounds yearly from beverage makers, to whom they are waste products. Mixing these with coal, they hope to decrease carbon emissions by 7000 tons. Using spent coffee grounds for fuel is a win-win situation. Coffee lovers enjoy the beans the first time around, as the brewing process creates not only our favorite beverage, but also the fuel to run factories and heat our homes. If the American and Japanese researchers can pool their knowledge we will all possibly be burning coffee as fuel, and that can’t help but lead to a sweeter smelling world. And speaking of saving the ecology, why not try our latest direct-from-farmer coffees?



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