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Innovation in Biofuel Will Turn Used Coffee Grounds into Clean Energy

10 May 10:00 by Steve Walia

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There is good news for coffee lovers who also want to see a more sustainable energy future. A new technological innovation will allow old coffee grounds to be turned into biofuels, helping consumers to reduce their ongoing reliance on fossil fuels and extracting extra value from a waste product.

The news is particularly good for the biofuels industry, which has long courted controversy for the fact that crops grown for fuel divert agricultural land away from food production. Feedstocks are also expensive and resource-heavy for land and water.

However, high-calorie coffee grounds which would otherwise be sent to landfill offer a valuable and alternative feedstock which is naturally low-cost. Most of these coffee grounds will end up in waste - in fact, in 2014, over nine million tonnes of this used product were disposed of.

A small number of firms are already using the waste product to produce biofuels, but a team at Lancaster University has discovered a way to extract greater efficiency from the process, greatly increasing the commercial competitiveness of a biofuel made from leftover Americanos.

The team of chemical engineers took a multi-stage production process and condensed it into a single step by combining the extraction of usable oil from the used grounds and the conversion of the oils into coffee-derived biodiesel.

The new process uses a catalyst and methanol - removing the need for the previously required hexane - and saves on the amount of chemical waste produced. The new process also just needs 10 minutes to produce the oil yield, which is far quicker and cuts down on energy costs.

The new process could potentially allow over 720,000 tonnes of biodiesel to be manufactured annually from used coffee grounds.