Would You Like A Coffee To Go? “Scirocco-ccino” Storms Europe

Much hilarity and cracking of bad puns has greeted the arrival of a coffee powered car over in the UK.  “The Car-puccino” which runs on “expressos” and needs its own “filter lane.” Groan.

The car used was a Volkswagen Scirocco, apparently because of its resemblance to the DeLoren in Back To The Future. This prompted one truly awful copyrighter (who should be taken out and shot) to come up with “Scirocco-ccino”.

The thing is though, this is a working road-legal car powered by left over coffee grinds.

The car hack has been built by a group behind the BBC’s successful prime time science show, Bang Goes the Theory. It will be exhibited at the Bang Fair in Manchester over this weekend before being driven the 200+ miles to London.

The idea of fueling things with coffee grounds isn’t new, for sure. We’ve heard about research showing that coffee grounds could make a good feedstock for biodiesel. But the “Scirocco-ccino” works on the same gasification principles highlighted by several other posts on Gas 2.o, including one two years ago that showed a converted 1975 GMC pickup also running on gasified recycled coffee grounds.

Basically, the raw fuel (in this case, coffee grounds… the gasification can also be done on other materials, like wood) is heated to over 700 degrees Celsius to produce carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This is then cleaned before being fed through a combustion engine to generate power.

However green the car is, speedy or economical it is not. It can reach a good 60 mph, but in order to do so has to chew its way through a whole kilo of coffee grounds every three miles. This makes it 50 times more expensive than gas (if you don’t use purely recycled coffee grounds, which would then be free, of course).

What’s more, the car has to stop every 30 miles or so to refuel, and every 60 miles to clean out the filters. Because of this, the makers are expecting their average speed to be little more than 20 mph during their journey to London.

And, actually, you have to question the car’s green-ness as well. The coffee grinds have to be in super dry pellet form (which must take a fair whack of energy to achieve) and according to some sources the gasification process consumes up to three sacks of charcoal per mile.

But the idea is cool and worth trying to improve. After all, imagine all those big corporate office blocks fuelled by endless cups of coffee… could they diversify into fuel production?  Big business car fleets could all be powered by how much it takes to kick start the board in the morning.

Even cafes could get in on the act….

Below is a short movie from the BBC explaining how the car works and was built and a diagram with details. (Unfortunately, due to copyright restrictions by the BBC, the movie is only available for watching in European countries. So if you want to watch it, either move to Europe, or find yourself a nice European proxy internet address.)

Chris Milton

is a seasoned sustainability journalist focusing on business, finance and clean technology. His writing's been carried by a number of highly respected publishers, including The Guardian, The Washington Post and Scientific American. You can follow him on twitter as @britesprite, where he's one of Mashable's top green tweeters and Fast Company's CSR thought leaders. Alternatively you can follow him to the shops... but that would be boring.