University of Cincinnati researchers discovered that caffeine might not be the only useful source of energy found in coffee.
Qingshi Tu, a doctoral student in environmental engineering at UC, came up with the idea of using coffee grounds as an alternative energy source after learning about Starbucks’ initiative to become more environmentally friendly.
“I started to think how I can mingle together the two things that I am intrigued with — coffee and biofuel — to provide a solution for people to live a sustainable life,” Tu said.
Along with the help of Yang Liu, a graduate student in environmental engineering, and Mingming Lu, an associate professor in environmental engineering, Tu is researching three different ways in which coffee grounds can be used as alternative energy sources.
Currently, major sources for biodiesel production — a substitute for petroleum diesel fuel —are vegetable oils and animal fats.
Replacing these sources with waste coffee grounds would improve the sustainability of biodiesel production.
One main area of focus involves developing a method to extract oil from the waste coffee grounds to produce the biodiesel.
Waste coffee grounds remaining after the initial extraction can be used to purify the crude biodiesel derived from the coffee oils.
After the biodiesel is purified, coffee grounds can be used again as additional fuel for burners.
Tu said he is confident the technologies for production, purification and combustion could be completed in the next two years.
WCG’s are an ideal source for biodiesel production, Tu said, because they eliminate usage of edible oils — oils from foods in high demand — reduce costs of feedstock, increase competitiveness between biodiesel producers, and create more biodiesel production.
But the logistics of implementing the research on a larger scale is a potential problem, Liu said. Coffee-ground generators are not evenly dispersed; therefore a solution for efficient collection and storage of waste coffee grounds is needed.
Still, Liu is confident the project will be successful and the group is actively seeking funding and participants.
“Some experts in the biodiesel field wanted to see more progress about the project, too,” Liu said. “Therefore, our group has firm confidence about the application of WCG in the near future.”