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Power Biotech Transportation

Waste Coffee Grounds Offer New Source of Biodiesel 276

Julie188 writes "Researchers in Nevada are reporting that waste coffee grounds can provide a cheap, abundant, and environmentally friendly source of biodiesel fuel for powering cars and trucks. Their study has been published online in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Growers produce more than 16 billion pounds of coffee around the world each year. Scientists estimate that spent coffee grounds can potentially add 340 million gallons of biodiesel to the world's fuel supply."
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Waste Coffee Grounds Offer New Source of Biodiesel

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  • Re:shipping cost (Score:4, Insightful)

    by anagama ( 611277 ) <> on Friday December 12, 2008 @04:11AM (#26087475) Homepage
    If lucky, probably just enough to power the trucks to go get it at 47 pounds of coffee grounds per gallon of fuel.
  • by glavenoid ( 636808 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @04:12AM (#26087477) Journal
    Sure, bio-diesel is great, but what difference does that make to people running cars dependent on refined gasoline?

    Until either carmakers start to manufacture vehicles that can accept something other than regular gasoline (petrol), or realize the short-term benefits of diesel-based vehicles, this kind of shit will go no-where.

    Car-makers -- Start going towards diesel fuel. It's the way of the near future. Diesel engines are already flex-fuel by nature. *Then* create motor vehicles that can handle multiple fuels.

  • by Protoslo ( 752870 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @04:19AM (#26087511)
    The total yearly amount of biodiesel available from this "abundant" source worldwide is less than the amount of motor gasoline [] consumed in a single day in the U.S. in 2007. To be fair, TFA implies nothing of the sort, the summary is just rather enthusiastic.
  • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @04:20AM (#26087523) Journal

    Note that they make the biodiesel from used coffee grounds. That is, unlike corn, it's not in competition to food usage. Indeed, a growing biodiesel price would mean that the coffee makers would get more money for the waste coffee ground, and therefore if at all, the coffee would get cheaper. Well, at least the coffy you buy ready-made. Making your own probably gets more expensive (but then, mabe it will be possible to sell personal waste coffee ground as well; after all, there should be a lot coffee be made by individuals). What would certainly get more expensive is instant coffee, because that doesn't produce waste coffee grounds.

  • Re:How practical? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @04:26AM (#26087549) Journal

    Well, if you find 50 different sources which each provide about 2% of the needed fuel, you get 100% of your needed fuel.

  • Re:shipping cost (Score:4, Insightful)

    by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @04:30AM (#26087575) Homepage

    I doubt there'd be special trips to pick up the grinds. Rather, the coffee shop would exchange their old grinds for new ones each time the truck comes.

    That said, I doubt many coffee shops go through enough grinds to make this remotely economical.

  • In other words (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Once&FutureRocketman ( 148585 ) <otvk4o702@sneakemail . c om> on Friday December 12, 2008 @04:31AM (#26087577) Homepage

    Scientists estimate that spent coffee grounds can potentially add 340 million gallons of biodiesel to the world's fuel supply."

    Of about a bit less than half of ONE DAY of oil consumption for just the United States.

    It's nice to harvest the waste stream and all (although coffee grounds are also really great fertilizer), but this is not in any way a "sustainable" solution to anything. There's a scale mismatch to the problem they claim to be addressing.

  • Re:In other words (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 12, 2008 @04:52AM (#26087657)

    Or what you're really saying is nearly all the fuel produced by the process will be consumed simply by transporting the 16 billion pounds of coffee to a plant where it can be processed to biodiesel and the cars of the employees traveling to the plant to process it.

  • by captainpanic ( 1173915 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @05:30AM (#26087773)
    There will not be a single source of biomass to replace all fossil fuels. Also, that is not desirable: then the whole world would need to be planted with the same crop. (Although I can see some enthusiasm for a world with only coffee). There are many, many sources of waste materials containing any form of carbon - those can all be converted into a fuel. Obviously, one should always consider the energy needed to make the fuel, and to transport it to where it is needed. If transport is too expensive, I suggest making electricity (rather cheap to transport that).
  • by RustinHWright ( 1304191 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @05:34AM (#26087791) Homepage Journal

    This isn't about COFFEE FIXES THE ENTIRE WORLD. It's about yet another proof that we are surrounded by hundreds of viable sources of sustainable fuel. That now that we're finally waking up to it, gasoline and diesel and the lot are just carbon and hydrogen and a few other plentiful elements, all of which are quite literally common as dirt and easy to shift from one simple set of molecules to another. It's only being subjected to over a hundred years of propaganda and sabotage by the oil companies that made us forget that in the first place. Henry Ford and Rudolf Diesel, to name two, certainly always knew better.
      Do you consider a single teacher useless if she or he can't personally teach every student in the world at once? Do you consider a meal useless unless it means you'll never have to eat again? Do you consider RAM useless unless each piece can hold all the files you'll ever need to store?

    This isn't "a scale mismatch". It's just people going out and significantly decreasing the problem. And with them cutting it down by maybe a third of one percent this week and somebody else finding another approach that cuts it by another half a percent next week and so on, the work gets done. Thats what real life is. You go out and make things better. And with six billion of us, you don't need to assume that one little development will fix the problem. Only that it moves us forward.

  • by RustinHWright ( 1304191 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @05:40AM (#26087817) Homepage Journal

    Funny how people keep talking about fuel used to transport other fuel being some sort of dealbreaker. How do these people think gas is transported now from, say, the Middle East? Magic elf slippers? If transporting gas half way across the world, which is what we do now and have for generations, isn't a big deal, then why do people keep thinking that transporting some other fuel a few hundred miles will eat up all of its net energy advantage?

  • by RustinHWright ( 1304191 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @05:43AM (#26087825) Homepage Journal

    Our car companies and national vehicle policies haven't turned out to be very bright. Some people say that eventually this may even cause American car makers to have financial problems. Maybe you've heard about it.

  • by Evil Pete ( 73279 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @05:46AM (#26087853) Homepage

    Used coffee grounds. So how much feedstock to the process is this per person. Um let me calculate that.... squat per day. What is the point of this? Think how much fuel you use per day. Measured in litres not millilitres. The trouble with these bullshit figures is that they are unrealistic, they assume suspension of disbelief. Remember in physics classes where they emphasised that you estimated the power of 10 (magnitude) so that you would have a reality check? Same here.

  • by jsoderba ( 105512 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @06:04AM (#26087917)

    In most of Europe taxes on gasoline are much higher than on diesel. This creates an artificial demand for diesel powered cars. Without taxation diesel is actually somewhat more expensive than gas due to a more complex refining process. Today this tax discrimination is partially motivated by lower greenhouse gas emissions, but originally it was a sop to the trucking industry. It was only in the 90s that environmentally friendly diesels were pioneered by VW.

    The diesel engines used by GM's European divisions (Opel and Saab) are competitive with VW's and other European manufacturers' engines. Ford also has good diesels in its Volvo cars.

    A major barrier to diesel adoption in the US is California's environmental laws. Diesel engines produce more particulates (soot) than gasoline engines, increasing local air pollution. Due to the geography of Los Angeles it is unusually prone to smog, so California's emission controls are particularly strict. US car makers don't like the idea of marketing models that are excluded from the biggest car market in the country.

  • by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @06:13AM (#26087959) Homepage

    Don't forget to subtract out labor and administrative costs, as well as the cost of operating the coffee to oil process.

    At best, it might break even. (See also: that episode of Seinfeld where they fill up a truck with glass bottles to drive to Michigan to redeem the $0.05 deposits.)

  • by Eunuchswear ( 210685 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @06:54AM (#26088165) Journal

    You want to "wean people off" "current fuels" by subsidising their price?

    And Slashotters think this is "insightful"?

  • by RustinHWright ( 1304191 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:08AM (#26088249) Homepage Journal

    It's been a hell of a long time since anybody just "pumped it out of the ground". Oil these days is forced up with thousands of tons of pressurized (and now toxic) water, run through hundred million dollar curving, shifting pipe complexes that are prone to breaking waaaaaaay down in the ground. If, that is, the platform can be kept on station, the local government doesn't collapse, the pipeline isn't blown up by rebels or simply competing power groups, and on and on. If you think that we're comparing biofuels to a process where people just dig a hole a few feet deep and oil just politely spurts into a tank, then I think that you need to take a look at how these things are done in the modern world.

  • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:20AM (#26088303)

    With this thinking nothing will ever be a viable "alternative" fuel. Every little bit helps. If oil really is running out, then we are in trouble. But say in 50 years we have:
    1% of BioD from Coffee
    5% from Hemp
    8% from Switch Grass
    9% from Soybeans
    10% from Human Excrement.
    10% from Animal Excrement.
    15% from GTL....

    Nothing alone is going to replace this magical black liquid made from millions of years of compressing carbons into a very energy dense medium.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 12, 2008 @07:28AM (#26088343)

    If transport is too expensive, I suggest making electricity (rather cheap to transport that).

    Transporting electricity is expensive. Suppose you decide to use wires to do it. You need several pieces of good quality metal all connected from one end to the other. It's not cheap to buy all that copper, and it's not cheap to have the wires and poles installed. And it's not cheap to maintain the wires and poles either.

    Then we have the transmission losses. You can easily lose 10% of your electricity in a long run. You might think oh it's only 10%. Compare it to a truck which can carry 30 tons of diesel. How far can the truck go using 3 tons of diesel for fuel? A really long way right? Further than you can get 90% of your electricity?

    And you don't need a very expensive road to drive a truck on. But you do need very expensive transmission equipment for electricity.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 12, 2008 @09:03AM (#26088961)

    If transporting gas half way across the world, which is what we do now and have for generations, isn't a big deal

    News for you: it is a big deal. It's only done because without environmental damage being accounted for, it is still hugely profitable. Your logic is what is destroying the life basis of future generations.

  • by Cowmonaut ( 989226 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @09:50AM (#26089343)

    Um, I beg to differ. I live in southwest Washington state. I don't travel a lot so I don't know how the roads work in other states so maybe we're just weird. Anyways, on I-5 you have a little less than 10 seconds to get up to 60 usually. Most cars from the 80's and newer can handle this with no problem.

    I'll elaborate. Most of the on-ramps go in a big curve with a speed limit of 25 mph, occasionally you get one that is 35 mph. If you are a jackass you can usually go up to 10 mph over without being in risk of losing control, unless its icy. Once the on-ramp straightens out you have less than 10 seconds to get up to speed.

    This is where driving at certain times of day just gets dangerous in my opinion. There are people who seem to think you "should" be going 5-10 mph *under* the speed limit. The problem is these people are in the vast minority and are causing a road hazard.

    You feel if someone is driving 60mph that it is dangerous for someone to be passing them at 80mph correct? So how dangerous is it for you to take your time getting up to 60mph (when the car is FULLY capable of doing so in less than 10 seconds; average of 12) and getting on the freeway at 40mph while everyone else is trying to go 60mph or more? How about when those people going 60 have to get between you and the car infront/behind you so they can merge onto the off-ramp? 20 mph is a big difference, slowing down reasonably won't cut it sometimes and your average drier won't be able to tell that until its (almost) too late.

    You want to go the speed limit, that's fine. We can talk about driving slowly/speeding some other day. But grow a backbone and accelerate! I see far too many near-accidents caused by some yahoo who is getting on a freeway and is still going 40mph even though he had a nice stretch of on-ramp to get up to speed all because he's not accelerating enough.

  • by o'reor ( 581921 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:21AM (#26089675) Journal
    Well, if we made biofuel out of all the bullshit that appears on /. ... the OPEC countries would go bankrupt.
  • by Jesus_666 ( 702802 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @10:50AM (#26090095)

    anyone actually interested in solving the energy crisis?

    For example scientists working out ways to generate fuel from various kinds of waste, which, when combined, might fill a significant part of the gap that fossil oil leaves?

    We're not going to find some magical process which will instantly replace fossil fuels. But if we find fifty renewable sources of oil that each produce 1% of our current need then we have already cut the problem in half. And if we find new technologies that allow us to reduce the amount of oil used then that further reduces the problem. Even a tiny step forward is a step forward.

  • by cromar ( 1103585 ) on Friday December 12, 2008 @04:26PM (#26095251)
    I'm calling bullshit here. There are certainly ways to move toward more sustainable ways of life without reverting to life 400 years ago. The OP didn't mention anything that would take us back 400 years or even 50 years; he asked we consider restructuring the way we use energy so that we use far less than we do now. There are obvious benefits to reworking zoning laws to allow say small groceries every 5 blocks so that nearby residents are able to get localized produce, dry goods, etc. without having to drive across town to the nearest Wal*Mart or other mega-grocer's. Allowing small commercial areas to be zoned in pockets closer to residential areas would also provide feasible ways to save energy used in transportation (not 100%, but even a 25% reduction in individual daily travel energy would make an astounding difference). Those are two changes Americans could make to lower energy costs with minimal impact on any other infrastructure. It might also help build communities by bringing us together instead of spreading us apart.

    What the OP was saying is that replacing all of our energy with sustainable energy is going to be a lot easier if we also reduce the amount of energy we use.

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