London's Buses Are Now Powered By Coffee Grounds

Turns out coffee can power more than just human beings.

By Ethan L. Johns
November 21, 2017

Image: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

Coffee has long been the fuel of choice for tired humans. But once the grounds have been used to brew an inky black pot of toasty, fruity life juice, they just go into the trash, right? Yeah, but not for much longer if one UK-based firm has anything to say about it.

The city of London produces 220,000 tons of spent coffee grounds each year, according to bio-bean, a company which recycles used coffee grounds and turns them into sources of energy. Its solution? Coffee grounds are sourced from cafes around the city before being run through bio-bean’s factory, which can process 55,000 tons of the stuff each year, turning it into biofuel that can be mixed with diesel and burned. The compost bin is so 2016.

With help from Shell, the oil and energy company, bio-bean has graduated from coffee-ground fireplace logs to coffee-ground biofuels which were put into action on Monday in the gas tanks of London’s famous double decker buses.

The European Union is working toward reducing carbon emissions, and is doing so in part by mandating the incorporation of biofuels into transport fuels at a level of at least 10 percent by 2020 for its member countries. The coffee-derived “B20” biofuel has a 20 percent biomass content of coffee oil, while the rest of the mix comes from fossil diesel.

While biofuels burn cleaner than fossil fuels, releasing less carbon into the atmosphere, the actual production and harvesting of plants destined for fuel (like corn, wheat and sugarcane) can cancel out the benefits. Using waste products—like coffee grounds—to create fuel helps to minimize damage to the environment on the production end, and doesn’t contribute to the overloading of landfill.

Bio-bean has partnered with large coffee shops like Costa Coffee and Caffe Nero to collect a steady stream of grounds, and will produce 6,000 liters of fuel annually—enough to power a city bus for a year.

It’s no wind and it’s no solar, but it sure tastes good going down.

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns