Leftover coffee grounds can be used for a myriad of things. You can compost with them, exfoliate your skin before that next date, or even use them to deal with that nasty odor that you can’t get rid of in the laundry room. The point is, delicious java isn’t the only positive you can get out of brewing a pot of coffee.
But what if this humble usefulness of coffee grounds was taken to the next level? What if, instead of simply being recycled into everyday items like gardening aids or odor control, it was actually turned into a renewable energy source?
Renewable Energy in the Modern Day
There’s no doubt that we still live in a fossil fuel and nuclear energy-powered world. However, there are also many additional forms of renewable energy that are nudging their way into the market as well. At this point, hydropower, wind power, and solar power are the three big players in the renewable energy market.
Hydro-power, while less easily accessible than other options, is incredibly efficient once set up. In fact, it boasts a 90% conversion rate of available energy into electricity, making it a third of the cost of the fossil fuel equivalent. When it comes to wind power, a single average wind turbine can power 1,500 EU homes per year. And then there’s the sun. Solar power is already creating enough juice to keep nearly 13 million homes in the U.S. up and running.
Though these forms of natural energy have been around for a while, the recent uptick in renewable energy usage is fairly new. In fact, it’s primarily taken place within the last decade. The amount of solar power alone that has been created, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, shot up from virtually nil in the late 2000s to over 14,000 gigawatts by 2016.
Where Coffee Comes Into Play
You might be asking yourself at this point, “So what does all of this have to do with coffee?” And it would be a fair question.
It’s no secret that the coffee industry has gone through a bit of a revolution in recent years. A new focus on attention to detail, quality of the brew, and sourcing of beans have launched the entire industry to the next level.
Just a few short decades ago, a drip-brewed cup of Folgers or Maxwell House was the everyman’s pick-me-up before heading to work in the morning. Now, though, that smooth cup of java has become a refined drink, backed by quality and meant to be experienced, not simply consumed. In many ways, coffee has become the indie brother to wine itself.
But still, you ask, what does all of this have to do with renewable energy? What on earth does a better cup ‘o joe (that costs an arm and a leg, no less) have to do with keeping the lights on without consuming our natural resources?
The answer lies in the leftover grounds, themselves.
It’s no secret that the new coffee culture cares a great deal about being eco-friendly. After all, their craft is intimately connected with the earth.
Recent trends have included things like a growing push for increased accountability for organic, Shade Grown, Fair Trade, and even Direct Trade standards and certifications. Packaging has become a focal point, too, with companies great and small looking to shed their plastic pods, cups, and even straws for more environmentally friendly alternatives.
And now, in the midst of all of this change and ecological awareness, we’ve stumbled on a new phenomenon that has the potential to be incredibly impactful.
We can turn coffee waste into power.
Coffee = Power
While you can always swap out those Chemex paper filters for a reusable one, the one thing you just can’t get rid of are those leftover coffee grounds. Naturally, then, researchers and the simply curious have scrounged around for a while looking for a way, any way, to reuse these grounds for good. As already mentioned, many of these uses, while certainly clever, are a bit humdrum nevertheless.
However, a handful of more efficient uses have now cropped up, and some of these involve the direct production of electricity itself.
The primary player making an eco-friendly coffee ground buzz at the moment is Bio-Bean. This fledgling UK company has made it a mission to gather all of the leftover coffee grounds throughout their nation in order to use them as a reusable energy source.
How? By turning them into burnable fuel.
Bio-Bean takes the coffee grounds and compresses them into, in their own words, “high-performance, sustainable heating briquettes made from your recycled coffee grounds, perfect for use in woodburners, stoves, and open fires.” They also have created carbon-neutral Biomass Pellets that can be used on an industrial scale.
Douwe Egberts Master Blenders
While Bio-Bean’s mission is available to the public, another company is also making its own, internal efforts to recycle those previously unwanted coffee grounds. Douwe Egberts Master Blenders is a large producer of instant and liquid coffees. The process involves a lot of energy, which was previously supplied purely by natural gas.
Now, however, the manufacturer has partnered with environmental service provider Veolia in order to supplement its energy supply. They’re doing this by recycling their used coffee grounds (to the tune of 33,000 tons per year) into a biomass boiler, where they are dried and then burned in order to keep things running. The results? A whopping 70% reduction in CO2 emissions.
Clever Coffee Usage
Companies like Bio-Bean and Douwe Egberts Master Blenders are pioneers in the search for ways to reuse coffee grounds, and their success is important. While it’s good for them to find ways to positively impact their own bottom line while remaining eco-friendly, the true net positive here is the fact that coffee companies are looking for environmentally-considerate solutions to their own waste and they’re finding answers.
In the past, coffee grounds were simply seen as a waste product with cute, albeit insignificant, uses that might help your garden grow or your skin shine. Now, though, those used grounds that have filled so many landfills over the years are quickly beginning to see their stock go up.
Whether they’re being used as fuel for an industrial plant or a nice fire on your hearth, used coffee grounds have never been more eco-friendly than right now, and we’re just getting started. Going forward, the sky’s the limit.