We can’t all be Elon Musk, smashing multiple business paradigms in a single bound. But there are opportunities for innovative thinking all around us. All we have to do is look. That’s what one entrepreneur in England did a few years ago. Arthur Kay is an architect by training. While designing a new coffee shop one day, he learned that England creates more than half a million tons of coffee grounds every year. Surely they were good for something other than being sent to landfills, weren’t they?
Kay did some research. He discovered that coffee has a higher caloric content than wood. So he decided to give up his career as a budding young architect and start turning coffee grounds into fuel pellets. Today, his company — Bio-Bean — collects more than 10 million pounds of coffee grounds a year. Once pressed and processed, they are burned in furnaces that heat factories, office buildings, and airports. Kay’s Bio-Beans are carbon neutral and cost less than traditional fuels like oil and natural gas.
That last part is critical to his business. He is no starry eyed tree hugger who cries when he watches Bambi. He understands economics in a way that few environmental activists do. “It’s about making sustainability the cheaper option and the better option in terms of quality of product. It’s not about saying you have to do it for an ethical reason.”
That is precisely the reason so many people want to make the cost of fossil fuels reflect their actual cost to society. If the cost of carbon based fuels were more in line with their true cost, more people would choose to use sustainable energy.
Bio-Bean has branched out to make other products. Customers can now burn coffee grounds based charcoal in their barbecue grills. The company also makes a log that can be burned in the fireplace. Kay says such products are typically derived from sources that are not eco-friendly. “A lot of it comes not just from forests but actually from the rainforests in South America as well.” he says.
Does it smell like a fresh roasted cup of coffee when Bio-Beans are burned? “Happily, or sadly, it doesn’t. It doesn’t have a particularly strong aroma. I kind of think if you know it’s coffee, you can tell, but it’s just got a kind of interesting smoky aroma.”
Not content to rest on his laurels, Kay is thinking of new things he can do with leftover coffee grounds, which have a high oil content. Bio-Bean already removes the oil to make its pellet fuel. It has begun making bio-diesel for use in automobiles and aircraft. “Our dream is to power London buses — you could power every bus in London, and one or two out of London, with London’s coffee grounds.”
Kay says he is already thinking about what can be done with the waste products from breweries and distilleries. They have “interesting compounds with interesting potential value to be massively beneficial to the environment,” he says.
Source: Huffington Post UK. Photo credits: Bio-Bean