Another crazy biodiesel idea: fuel made from coffee

Posted: December 28, 2008 in environment
Tags: ,


The biofuel madness continues unabated. It’s been obvious for years now that the concept has mainly disadvantages from both an ecological as well as a global justice perspective: more forests are chopped down to make room for fuel crops, biofuel production uses more energy than you get from using the end product, less area is devoted to growing food, higher food prices causing more starvation and increasing world poverty, our dependency on cars remains and because they are growing in numbers, biofuels actually contributes indirectly to more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and so on; it’s a long list.

Now some coffee drinking researchers shot themselves in the foot by discovering oil in coffee. The NY Times reported a few days ago that scientists at the University of Nevada, Reno, have made diesel fuel from used coffee grounds. Analysis showed that even the grounds contained about 10 to 15 percent oil by weight. It is commendable of course that these guys are thinking about recycling waste, but even if all the coffee grounds in the world were used to make fuel, the amount produced would be less than 1 percent of the diesel used in the United States annually.

You would think that makes the whole idea not viable, but as with other food crops, the agri-business of course might in future see a very different commercial opportunity. Why stick with coffee grounds? Using real coffee will render even higher levels of oil, plus there is cheap and awfully tasting coffee around, like those beans of the robusta variety. These two factors alone might make it viable to grow coffee as a fuel crop – with all the disadvantages mentioned above to the planet including us. And they certainly won’t be outweighed by exhaust fumes spreading coffee aroma.

It’s the usual thing: we have an idea that on the surface looks good, but we don’t think through possible consequences. And science in particular has a long and bad track record in thinking holistically.

  1. Dad says:

    yes, but… why think in agri-business terms? think small & here & now – there is all this waste from existing crops being poured away, when it could be used to provide much needed fuel for the growers’ own machines on their farms- doesn’t it make sense, if the technology is available, to use it? here & now, the farmers need to dispose of their coffee-bean-sludge, which some do by turning it into fertilisers, but others don’t. if the end product could be biodiesel that can be used on the farms, wouldn’t that be better than just throwing it out? thinking in agri-business terms, yes, there may be some people who want to grow coffee just to run their cars on it, but that is a separate issue & isn’t addressing the question of disposing of a (fairly polluting) waste product.

  2. howardfarmer says:

    brilliant idea.. i am now looking into the commercial prospects of this. i can collect all the spent coffeee i want. and all i need now is a supplier for the n hexane and a suitable bidiesel converter and we are away .. any sponsrs out there wanna lend me 50k..

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