Monday, December 08, 2008

The Economy and the Environment May Find Common "Grounds" Here

For quite some time now, a lot of people have been in search of the perfect alternative fuel, and nobody's come up with the perfect one yet. But if this one works, it could solve a couple of problems at once: The fossil-fuel crisis and the recent economic woes of Starbucks. That's right--someone has found a way to make biodiesel from spent coffee grounds:
[...]They estimate that the coffee ground biodiesel industry could generate as much as $8,000,000 in profits annually using waste from US Starbucks stores alone.

One of the main limits to the acceptance of biodiesel as an alternative fuel is its price premium above regular diesel. To bring the price of biodiesel down, the industry uses as much waste material from other industries as possible to make it — such as used fryer oil and animal fats from poultry processing.
I've heard about fryer-oil biodiesel as well; people who have seen such vehicles in action say that the car gives off the aroma of french fries as it goes by. But back to the coffee angle:
In holding with the idea of cheap biodiesel feedstocks, a team of researchers in the Chemical and Materials Engineering Department at the University of Nevada figured that maybe spent coffee grounds would fit the bill too.

And boy do they ever. Not only do spent coffee grounds have a relatively large amount of oil (about 15% — almost all of which can be converted into biodiesel using standard methods), biodiesel made from the grounds has a long shelf life due to the large amount of antioxidants in coffee. Antioxidants slow the process of rancidification.

There’s a bonus too: at the end of the biodiesel extraction and conversion process, the leftover grounds can be turned into fuel pellets for wood stoves and boilers, closing the waste loop (or at least putting most of the carbon and nutrients that had recently been used by the plant to grow back into the atmosphere where they can again be used by plants to grow).
Sounds good to me. Let's do some more work on this, guys (or, as Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds would say, "Faster, please"). And if the fryer-mobile smells like french fries as it passes by, just imagine the pleasant aroma of a car powered on, say, Christmas Blend. And imagine turning in one's own spent filters at the filling station (Starbucks with pumps?) for a fuel credit. I'm intrigued, to say the least.

I'll keep following this story and update it when (hopefully) more progress is reported.

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