Coffee for cars?

We may soon no longer be the only big consumers of coffee.

Researchers in Nevada have found that used coffee grounds can be turned into a source of cheap, environmentally friendly fuel for cars and trucks.

Although the price of gas has plummetted recently – averaging around $0.65/litre here in Waterloo Region during this last week of December – the search for a viable fuel alternative continues. Various biodiesels have been around for a while, but widespread consumer acceptance hasn’t really come about because we haven’t yet discovered a renewable, low-cost and high-quality replacement for gasoline.

But coffee seems to tell a different story, according to this new research from the University of Nevada-Reno. Used grinds contain 11-20 percent oil, which is about the same as in rapeseed, palm or soybean oil, biodiesel’s traditional base products.

More than 16 billion pounds of coffee are produced globally every year and more often than not, used grounds end up in the garbage without ever realizing their additional potential. Scientists estimate that spent coffee grounds could add 340 million gallons of biodiesel to the world’s fuel supply.

As part of their work, the researchers collected used coffee grounds, separated the oil and then converted it into biodiesel. According to the scientists, the high anti-oxidant content of coffee makes the resulting jave fuel more stable than traditional biodiesel. Any leftover solids can be composted or used to make ethanol.

As a next step, the researchers plan a small pilot plant to make and test this experimental fuel.

As a dedicated worshipper at the coffee altar – as you can see by the above photo showing my friend Kelly and I enjoying a morning cup – , this seems to me to be a stroke of genius. Java is already the fuel of choice for millions of people around the world to get themselves up and through the day – but now we could be using it for our vehicles too, lessening our fossil fuel dependence while also helping the environment.

Could be a win-win-win.

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