Biodiesel coffee_grounds

Published on December 4th, 2008 | by Nick Chambers

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America’s Addiction Fuels Desire For Coffee Ground Biodiesel


Researchers are reporting they have successfully made a high quality biodiesel from spent coffee grounds. They estimate that the coffee ground biodiesel industry could generate as much as $8,000,000 in profits annually using waste from US Starbucks stores alone.

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One of the main limits to the acceptance of biodiesel as an alternative fuel is its price premium above regular diesel. To bring the price of biodiesel down, the industry uses as much waste material from other industries as possible to make it — such as used fryer oil and animal fats from poultry processing.

In holding with the idea of cheap biodiesel feedstocks, a team of researchers in the Chemical and Materials Engineering Department at the University of Nevada figured that maybe spent coffee grounds would fit the bill too.

And boy do they ever. Not only do spent coffee grounds have a relatively large amount of oil (about 15% — almost all of which can be converted into biodiesel using standard methods), biodiesel made from the grounds has a long shelf life due to the large amount of antioxidants in coffee. Antioxidants slow the process of rancidification.

There’s a bonus too: at the end of the biodiesel extraction and conversion process, the leftover grounds can be turned into fuel pellets for wood stoves and boilers, closing the waste loop (or at least putting most of the carbon and nutrients that had recently been used by the plant to grow back into the atmosphere where they can again be used by plants to grow).

Given that Starbucks generates 210 million pounds of spent coffee grounds per year in the US, the researchers calculate that it could amount to 2.92 million gallons of biodiesel and 89,000 tons of fuel pellets. After taking out operating costs, and assuming a sale value of $4.50/gallon of biodiesel and $225/ton of fuel pellets, that amount equals just over $8 million of profits per year (view calculations).

Conducting my own calculations, even at $3/gallon for biodiesel, profits would be in the $4 million per year range.

Anybody in Seattle listening?

Photo Credit: How can I recycle this‘s Flickr photostream under a Creative Commons License.

Sources: ArsTechnica and Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry (subs req’d)




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About the Author

Not your traditional car guy.



  • Uncle B

    Put all this recovered oil through Asian and German high efficiency diesel/electric hybrid vehicles instead of feeding the current 1930’s technology U.S. diesel engines and we have the oil crisis solved! Why can’t Americans build efficient diesel engines? Why don’t we just copy German designs and lie about it? Then, we wouldn’t have to crack a bbl of oil to gasoline and add a bunch of expensive chemical to it to burn it!

  • Uncle B

    Put all this recovered oil through Asian and German high efficiency diesel/electric hybrid vehicles instead of feeding the current 1930’s technology U.S. diesel engines and we have the oil crisis solved! Why can’t Americans build efficient diesel engines? Why don’t we just copy German designs and lie about it? Then, we wouldn’t have to crack a bbl of oil to gasoline and add a bunch of expensive chemical to it to burn it!

  • Uncle B

    Put all this recovered oil through Asian and German high efficiency diesel/electric hybrid vehicles instead of feeding the current 1930’s technology U.S. diesel engines and we have the oil crisis solved! Why can’t Americans build efficient diesel engines? Why don’t we just copy German designs and lie about it? Then, we wouldn’t have to crack a bbl of oil to gasoline and add a bunch of expensive chemical to it to burn it!

  • Tim Cleland

    This is very cool technology. I love reading about advances like this. Now that fuel prices are coming back down, however (gasoline national average price just came down to $1.80/gal. as of this writing), alternative fuels are going to go on the back burner for a while. (Some analysts are predicting even lower gas prices in Jan./Feb. 2009 as people are paying their holiday bills and staying home to save money.) I just hope they get revived when they’re needed.

  • Tim Cleland

    This is very cool technology. I love reading about advances like this. Now that fuel prices are coming back down, however (gasoline national average price just came down to $1.80/gal. as of this writing), alternative fuels are going to go on the back burner for a while. (Some analysts are predicting even lower gas prices in Jan./Feb. 2009 as people are paying their holiday bills and staying home to save money.) I just hope they get revived when they’re needed.

  • Nick Chambers

    Tim,

    If we’re smart we’ll continue to be proactive about biofuels and other sources of alternative energy so that we don’t get caught with our pants down like the Big Three Detroit automakers.

    No more missing the boat on our way to a catastrophe.

  • http://www.coffeeratings.com/ greg

    Uhhh, what’s wrong with these fools in Nevada? Brazil has already been doing this for years:

    http://www.brazzilmag.com/content/view/3500/1/

    http://www.globalexchange.org/countries/brazil/4060.html

    How much of a “researcher” are you if you can’t even be bothered to do a Google search?

  • http://www.coffeeratings.com/ greg

    Uhhh, what’s wrong with these fools in Nevada? Brazil has already been doing this for years:

    http://www.brazzilmag.com/content/view/3500/1/

    http://www.globalexchange.org/countries/brazil/4060.html

    How much of a “researcher” are you if you can’t even be bothered to do a Google search?

  • Nick Chambers

    greg,

    The first link you provide makes no mention of coffee. Most regular readers of gas 2.0 know that Brazil is on the cutting edge of biofuel production already (just search through our archives for “Brazil”).

    The second one looks like it describes what was mostly just an idea with no actual research to support it. That’s what’s interesting about the development highlighted in this post. Do you have any information on whether or not the Brazilians were actually able to implement their idea of turning waste coffee beans to biodiesel? If not, your claim that they have “been doing it for years” is an empty one.

  • http://sunshinesupercars.blogspot.com Jo

    I have to say, a morning commute that smells like fresh-brewed Folgers sounds like a happy dance in heaven.

  • http://sunshinesupercars.blogspot.com Jo

    I have to say, a morning commute that smells like fresh-brewed Folgers sounds like a happy dance in heaven.

  • Roystarman

    Another Stunt, First diesel better not be 4.50 a gallon when it is selling for under 3.00 right now. Second 2.92 million gallons of bio diesel isn’t a lot and finally Starbuck’s maybe going out of business. Algae is the way to go for biodiesel

  • Roystarman

    Another Stunt, First diesel better not be 4.50 a gallon when it is selling for under 3.00 right now. Second 2.92 million gallons of bio diesel isn’t a lot and finally Starbuck’s maybe going out of business. Algae is the way to go for biodiesel

  • Steve-O

    Wow as a coffee lover, this is the ultimate bomb. Tastes delicious, great caffiene pick me up, nutritious antioxodants for my heart and circulatory system. Then…Fuel for the big rigs and jettas followed by bio stove pellets! Pretty cool…

    See, Roystarman is right sounds liek Algae IS great, but lets not get stuck on a single source. Seems like there are a few biodoesel stocks better than soybeans on the horizon, loke even fungus and stuff. I read about many of them right here.

    One other thing. What the heck, all they’re talking about in regards to this bailout electrics. I don’t care if petroleun is $1 a barrel, Biofuels are a great option. Why does the mainstream overlook all the cool crap I read about in this blog. They seem to ignore all the real green, promising stuff going on here. I still think liquid biofues must be our next step if they’re not the end game. End of rant.

  • Steve-O

    Wow as a coffee lover, this is the ultimate bomb. Tastes delicious, great caffiene pick me up, nutritious antioxodants for my heart and circulatory system. Then…Fuel for the big rigs and jettas followed by bio stove pellets! Pretty cool…

    See, Roystarman is right sounds liek Algae IS great, but lets not get stuck on a single source. Seems like there are a few biodoesel stocks better than soybeans on the horizon, loke even fungus and stuff. I read about many of them right here.

    One other thing. What the heck, all they’re talking about in regards to this bailout electrics. I don’t care if petroleun is $1 a barrel, Biofuels are a great option. Why does the mainstream overlook all the cool crap I read about in this blog. They seem to ignore all the real green, promising stuff going on here. I still think liquid biofues must be our next step if they’re not the end game. End of rant.

  • Steve-O

    Wow, with all those typos I had there you’d think I had been consuming some of that other combustable biofuel instead of coffee.

    One other comment here if I may…we need more than Jettas to burn the stuff. What happened to the Honda/Acura, Subaru, and Kia Borrego promises of USA diesels? Seems like they were vapor.

  • Steve-O

    Wow, with all those typos I had there you’d think I had been consuming some of that other combustable biofuel instead of coffee.

    One other comment here if I may…we need more than Jettas to burn the stuff. What happened to the Honda/Acura, Subaru, and Kia Borrego promises of USA diesels? Seems like they were vapor.

  • Doug

    To Roystarman,

    I think that 2.92 million barrels is just Starbucks. This does not take into account the leading seller of coffee in America: McDonalds. Add in all the other fast food chains plus Waffle House and you could produce 100s of millions of bio-diesel from waste grounds. I think that is a very significant amount of fuel.

  • Doug

    To Roystarman,

    I think that 2.92 million barrels is just Starbucks. This does not take into account the leading seller of coffee in America: McDonalds. Add in all the other fast food chains plus Waffle House and you could produce 100s of millions of bio-diesel from waste grounds. I think that is a very significant amount of fuel.

  • Nick Chambers

    Doug,

    You’re absolutely right.

  • EcoDude

    One big problem – the coffee grounds obviously aren’t in one location, but scattered all around the world at the 15,000-odd stores. So you have to include the transportation costs to collect and centralize the grounds so they can be processed. There goes your profit…

  • EcoDude

    One big problem – the coffee grounds obviously aren’t in one location, but scattered all around the world at the 15,000-odd stores. So you have to include the transportation costs to collect and centralize the grounds so they can be processed. There goes your profit…

  • Steve-O

    But, no difference from the waste veggie oil from restaurants. They could be collected hand-in hand even though they may have different destinations.

  • Steve-O

    But, no difference from the waste veggie oil from restaurants. They could be collected hand-in hand even though they may have different destinations.

  • Doug

    Also less trouble than drilling in the ground, planting and harvesting, and or growing a fuel source. Also have to add the fact that this prevents millions of tons of waste from hitting the landfills. If this is actually true than this could be a huge boost to bio fuel.

  • Doug

    Also less trouble than drilling in the ground, planting and harvesting, and or growing a fuel source. Also have to add the fact that this prevents millions of tons of waste from hitting the landfills. If this is actually true than this could be a huge boost to bio fuel.

  • Bobomo

    @Roystarman : Why can’t it be both? Obviously, commercial scale bio-diesel is going to have to come from a variety of sources, and here we have one that has the added benefits of making high-quality fuel AND removing tons of waste from landfills. Seems like a win-win.

  • Bobomo

    @Roystarman : Why can’t it be both? Obviously, commercial scale bio-diesel is going to have to come from a variety of sources, and here we have one that has the added benefits of making high-quality fuel AND removing tons of waste from landfills. Seems like a win-win.

  • Joost

    Revenue != profit.

  • Joost

    Revenue != profit.

  • oldpeter7up

    Ship the used ground back to a central location on the same trucks that ship the food to the restaurants. No additional system needed, and the companies would comply for the additional profit

  • oldpeter7up

    Ship the used ground back to a central location on the same trucks that ship the food to the restaurants. No additional system needed, and the companies would comply for the additional profit

  • http://joesacher.com Joe

    After taking out operating costs? Shipping the spent grounds to a location and cost for processing? These are not small costs. It is still a good idea, even if it just breaks even, but $8 million seems like a pie in the sky.

  • http://joesacher.com Joe

    After taking out operating costs? Shipping the spent grounds to a location and cost for processing? These are not small costs. It is still a good idea, even if it just breaks even, but $8 million seems like a pie in the sky.

  • http://jcwinnie.biz/wordpress/ jcwinnie

    Yeah, EcoDude! That also was my first thought.

    The other issue, I perceived a downplaying of emissions from “standard methods”. So, the suggested method has economic and environmental costs, some of which are offset because it is a waste feedstock stream.

    A cooler idea would be if Starbucks were to convert the waste coffee grounds in situ (which is Latin for Triple Shot) to electrical energy.

    Then, maybe a Starbucks on Dumpling Island, eh?

  • http://jcwinnie.biz/wordpress/ jcwinnie

    Yeah, EcoDude! That also was my first thought.

    The other issue, I perceived a downplaying of emissions from “standard methods”. So, the suggested method has economic and environmental costs, some of which are offset because it is a waste feedstock stream.

    A cooler idea would be if Starbucks were to convert the waste coffee grounds in situ (which is Latin for Triple Shot) to electrical energy.

    Then, maybe a Starbucks on Dumpling Island, eh?

  • scott

    does anybody knows if claims for the hydrogen devices added onto regular gas engines are for real ?

  • scott

    does anybody knows if claims for the hydrogen devices added onto regular gas engines are for real ?

  • Christopher

    Wow! soon all our cars will have a Mr.Fusion a la “Back to the Future” :D

    I wonder if the exhaust smell will resemble a cafe :P

  • Christopher

    Wow! soon all our cars will have a Mr.Fusion a la “Back to the Future” :D

    I wonder if the exhaust smell will resemble a cafe :P

  • em butler

    by all means subsidize bio fuels ,even unto 4 bucks a gallon

    that way you can feel good as you enter the poor house…

  • em butler

    by all means subsidize bio fuels ,even unto 4 bucks a gallon

    that way you can feel good as you enter the poor house…

  • exception

    In addition to retail brewing there are the large instant coffee plants. I always thought the Maxwell House factory in Houston looked like a refinery.

  • exception

    In addition to retail brewing there are the large instant coffee plants. I always thought the Maxwell House factory in Houston looked like a refinery.

  • LBJay

    @oldpeter7up

    Shipping back garbage in the same truck that’s delivering food would be against the law. (Health laws/cross contamination risk)

  • LBJay

    @oldpeter7up

    Shipping back garbage in the same truck that’s delivering food would be against the law. (Health laws/cross contamination risk)

  • Koblog

    The obvious problem is the diffuse distribution of the grounds. They are all over the nation in low concentrations. Collecting the grounds would require serious transportation fleets.

    And the working link to the “view calculations” broken link is:

    http://pubs.acs.org/doi/suppl/10.1021/jf802487s/suppl_file/jf802487s_si_001.pdf?cookieSet=1

  • Koblog

    The obvious problem is the diffuse distribution of the grounds. They are all over the nation in low concentrations. Collecting the grounds would require serious transportation fleets.

    And the working link to the “view calculations” broken link is:

    http://pubs.acs.org/doi/suppl/10.1021/jf802487s/suppl_file/jf802487s_si_001.pdf?cookieSet=1

  • comatus

    In the 1890’s, several large cities (Washington DC and Toledo Ohio were a couple) actually sold their residential trash to middlemen, getting free pickup and collecting a fee in addition. Household refuse then was heavy in animal fats, which were in demand for rendering into inudstrial lubricants. Except for limited-slip differentials, the whales were saved.

    In much the same way as Californians boast of separating their glass by color and driving it to the pickup terminals under penalty of law while a Midwesterner just shrugs and lugs the recycle barrel to the curb, we’ll achieve real economies in biological recycling when the same guy who picks up the garbage reprocesses the garbage. Because, you know what soylent green is.

    Someday we’ll mine the landfills. That was in a science fiction story just about 50 years ago.

  • comatus

    In the 1890’s, several large cities (Washington DC and Toledo Ohio were a couple) actually sold their residential trash to middlemen, getting free pickup and collecting a fee in addition. Household refuse then was heavy in animal fats, which were in demand for rendering into inudstrial lubricants. Except for limited-slip differentials, the whales were saved.

    In much the same way as Californians boast of separating their glass by color and driving it to the pickup terminals under penalty of law while a Midwesterner just shrugs and lugs the recycle barrel to the curb, we’ll achieve real economies in biological recycling when the same guy who picks up the garbage reprocesses the garbage. Because, you know what soylent green is.

    Someday we’ll mine the landfills. That was in a science fiction story just about 50 years ago.

  • Bob

    We don’t have ‘diesel engines like in Europe’ because we have things like the Sierra Club and the EPA getting in the way. But our newer diesel engines are supposedly cleaner, so it’s a moot point now.

    The problem here is the upstart costs – who’s going to shell out the money to build a refinery to make the biodiesel? The $8mil figure isn’t factoring in production costs, shipping, salaries, maintenance, and all of the other huge costs that go into a refinery.

    Personally I’m surprised that McDonalds hasn’t gotten into the biodiesel game by collecting all of their waste oils at biodiesel facilities.

  • Bob

    We don’t have ‘diesel engines like in Europe’ because we have things like the Sierra Club and the EPA getting in the way. But our newer diesel engines are supposedly cleaner, so it’s a moot point now.

    The problem here is the upstart costs – who’s going to shell out the money to build a refinery to make the biodiesel? The $8mil figure isn’t factoring in production costs, shipping, salaries, maintenance, and all of the other huge costs that go into a refinery.

    Personally I’m surprised that McDonalds hasn’t gotten into the biodiesel game by collecting all of their waste oils at biodiesel facilities.

  • http://optimism.thorscave.com Thor

    its important to squeeze out every bit of usage from things we consider waste (like coffee grounds), but this is not sustainable.

    Producing renewable, cheap, and domestic petroleum that can replace current fuels w/o engine modifications etc is the way to go.

    Check out LS9, inc. http://optimism.thorscave.com/?p=58

  • http://optimism.thorscave.com Thor

    its important to squeeze out every bit of usage from things we consider waste (like coffee grounds), but this is not sustainable.

    Producing renewable, cheap, and domestic petroleum that can replace current fuels w/o engine modifications etc is the way to go.

    Check out LS9, inc. http://optimism.thorscave.com/?p=58

  • thinkbetter

    Is the extraction and processing to biofuel going to happen at the individual starbucks location? Or are another fleet of delivery vehicles going to be dispatched to deliver the used coffee from the stores to the processing plant? This runs into the same problem that is keeping ethanol off the table for the big ag companies… low density source material costs too much fuel and labor to deliver to a processing plant and remain profitable in the long run.

  • thinkbetter

    Is the extraction and processing to biofuel going to happen at the individual starbucks location? Or are another fleet of delivery vehicles going to be dispatched to deliver the used coffee from the stores to the processing plant? This runs into the same problem that is keeping ethanol off the table for the big ag companies… low density source material costs too much fuel and labor to deliver to a processing plant and remain profitable in the long run.

  • Jack

    Calculations link is dead, so I’ll just ask: what allowance did you make for cost of collecting these grounds into the “refinery”? They’re necessarily “created” at a zillion street-corners across the land.

  • Jack

    Calculations link is dead, so I’ll just ask: what allowance did you make for cost of collecting these grounds into the “refinery”? They’re necessarily “created” at a zillion street-corners across the land.

  • Nick Chambers

    Jack,

    Calculations link is now fixed. I didn’t perform the analysis, the researchers did, so I can’t answer what considerations were exactly made in their calculations.

  • marvin

    Hempseed oil experiments in the 1970’s in eastern nebraska showed that 2000 gals biodiesel/ac. were achievable in 120 days. Nebraska has new bio-diesel plants sitting idle because of lack of oil seeds. The production of hempseed oil on Nebraska’s drout stressed lands alone would far outstrip the production of all coffee bio-diesel in the usa.

  • marvin

    Hempseed oil experiments in the 1970’s in eastern nebraska showed that 2000 gals biodiesel/ac. were achievable in 120 days. Nebraska has new bio-diesel plants sitting idle because of lack of oil seeds. The production of hempseed oil on Nebraska’s drout stressed lands alone would far outstrip the production of all coffee bio-diesel in the usa.

  • Josh

    I’ve actually performed this extraction/reaction myself. I’m a chemistry student and I found a paper detailing the process, so I replicated the experiment and found that indeed it can be done. All that’s required is some coffee, hexane, a roto-Vap, a reflux condenser setup, some CH3OH, and some NaOH. I’m currently looking to find a gas chromatography column to identify the constituent triglycerides and free fatty acids. It should be interesting.

    • http://Web Paul

      Josh
      Coming at you from an old post about bio-deisel,was wondering how you got on with extraction process?

  • Josh

    I’ve actually performed this extraction/reaction myself. I’m a chemistry student and I found a paper detailing the process, so I replicated the experiment and found that indeed it can be done. All that’s required is some coffee, hexane, a roto-Vap, a reflux condenser setup, some CH3OH, and some NaOH. I’m currently looking to find a gas chromatography column to identify the constituent triglycerides and free fatty acids. It should be interesting.

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  • Don Vang

    Hi Josh

    Could you please share with me your extraction process or tell me where I can obtain the detail process that you mentioned?

    Thanks

  • Don Vang

    Hi Josh

    Could you please share with me your extraction process or tell me where I can obtain the detail process that you mentioned?

    Thanks

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  • Tony allen

    The amount of time and energy expended to process coffee grounds into a biodiesel feedstock would not pan out. Making coffee grounds into pellet fuel if one had a large supply of it would be a much better choice.

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