Coffee-Powered Cars

Waste coffee grounds can provide a cheap, abundant, and environmentally friendly source of biodiesel fuel, according to a study by researchers at the University of Nevada-Reno.

With world coffee production at more than 16 billion pounds per year, the scientists estimate that spent coffee grounds could potentially add 340 million gallons of biodiesel to the world’s fuel supply.

For the study, the team collected grounds from Starbucks facilities in Reno. They used an inexpensive process to convert 100 percent of the oil from the grounds into biodiesel. The resulting coffee-based fuel—which smells like java—is more stable than traditional biodiesel due to coffee’s high antioxidant content, according to the researchers. Solids left over from the conversion can be converted to ethanol or used as compost.

The researchers plan to develop a small pilot plant to produce and test coffee-biodiesel in 2009.


  • Samie

    Recycling is great but it is proven that bio-fuels don’t work on a mass level or in petroleum markets, and envr concerns of energy to produce crops, fertilizers, deforestation, competition for land, transpiration, and true costs make this problematic. Nice idea but not a long-term solution. Reminds me of an idea that would have come out of the 1990′s. Recycling efforts along with fuel distribution, economies of scale, and growers who may produce coffee for only bio-diesel consumption make this questionable. Maybe a dose of Economics/Markets and Environmental Ethics is need for these researchers at the University of Nevada-Reno.

  • Bryce

    cars and coffee….a good mix

  • afinn

    This seems like a great idea! Of course it is not the whole solution, but it could be a part of it. Its not the same as growing corn for ethanol. Its using waste for energy. In terms of greenhouse emissions if you throw waste coffee grounds on a garbage pile, it probably emits methane, which is a much worse greenhouse gas than carbondioxide. So using coffee ground waste for biofuel is probably a really envoirmentally friendly thing to do. But I wonder if its possible to collect enough coffee ground waste to make this idee work?

  • Matt Dionne

    This would just give me a reason to drink more coffee.

  • Peter Fairley

    The numbers also look good for dimethyl ether, a diesel substitute, produced via gasification of black liquor pulp mill waste. In terms of greenhouse gas reduction and ecological impact of production it is 5-10 times better than conventional first-generation biodiesel made from vegetable oils.

    For more see my reporting on “bio-DME”: http://carbonnation.wordpress.com/2008/12/12/black-liquor-as-biofuels-white-knight/

  • Dan L

    This seems like a good idea. Unfortunately, at 340 million gallons per year, it will only displace 0.026% of the 1.3 trillion gallons of oil burned each year. And, just in making that calculation, I have already used up the 0.026% of my mindshare that I am willing to devote to this idea.

  • sri

    For autos of the future PHEV/BEVs are the way to go. All the variety of biofuels can be used to fuel power stations thus indirectly powering the cars. Or perhaps they can be used for aviation where no electric option seems likely in the near future.

  • Peter Fairley

    Thanks for the 0.026% mindshare. I’ll return the favor with a two-part response: First, gasification has potential to handle a much broader range of feedstocks than black liquor, but this low-hanging fruit can provide the outsized profitability and benefits needed to get the technology developed. Second, we are far too quick to dismiss partial solutions when it comes to climate change. In my opinion only a large number of small contributions can provide the very large changes in energy use required.

  • Shines

    I would think this would be the type of equation needed to determine viability:
    Would it be profitable if:
    1) Coffee shops were provided a special recycle bin that collected their spent coffee grounds. (and are willing to participate…)
    2) Special “ground trucks” (garbage/recycle trucks) went around once a week to collect the grounds and transport them to
    3) A local processing plant that converted the grounds to fuel
    4) The fuel is sold to gas/fueling stations where it can be sold at a comparible price to other diesel fuels.
    5) bonus if the waste from the processing can be sold as compost to farmers/gardeners/landscapers.

  • ryan

    I work at a chain of coffee shops that would be able to provide nearly a thousand lbs or more per week for this and there is really no reason why all coffee shops wouldn’t be able or willing to do this. Its not hard, it takes no extra space or time to do this. it would just have to be done on a biweekly or daily basis as used coffee grounds tend to mold very quickly. But, seriously, lots of talk, but, how about brass tacks. How do you do this, how is it converted, which conversion kit would work the best. I’m ready to jump on-board right now as I have easy access.

  • Gui

    There are some cities that could participate in a program to collect coffee grounds. In a recent trip to San Francisco, I found out that they now collect food scraps in green bins. While it would be impractical to collect coffee grounds at the residential level (they should be put in the compost unless it is flavored, then they should be taken to the toxic waste dump), collecting from business sites might be more practical, say if there were some… coffee colored bins?

    Cities like San Francisco, Portland, and similar not only have the infrastructure, but the disposition from the municipal government and citizenry — not only does one need to convince the municipal authorities (though many already have biofuel programs for their fleets), but the voters as well since the good will for these kinds of programs seems to be as fickle as the price of petroleum (as it goes up, the will for alternatives goes up; as it goes down, the shrill for the FOX’wannabe whackos goes up).

    One possibility that has not been explored is to use the biodiesel to power the roasting process (nah, there wouldn’t be enough energy density, or would there? Might be something of a catchy tag — coffee powered roaster — a sort of caffeine breeder reactor.

  • Keurig

    This would be a great partial solution to our foreign dependence on fossil fuels but as others have mentioned it would take much more than just the use of coffee grounds. Maybe if we used coffee, ethanol, and electric we might have a fighting chance.

  • visalia self storage

    i hope this is a step towards finding a solution to our energy dependence on fossil fuels.
    visalia self storage

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