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London buses will soon be powered by coffee

Turns out that it’s not just electric vehicles making the headlines this year, as Transport for London (TFL) announces a biofuel extracted from waste coffee grounds will be used to power some of the city’s buses from next Monday.

The tech firm Bio-bean has so far produced enough fuel from coffee grounds to power one bus for a year, when mixed with mineral diesel to form a B20 fuel. This comes amid London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s target for buses to meet the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) standard by 2020, designed to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions within the city.

See recent article: ‘Is now is the time to switch to an electric vehicle?’

The process of getting fuel from coffee is simpler than you might think and works as follows: Bio-bean takes the used grounds from coffee shops and instant coffee warehouses, and extracts oil from it in its factory. The average Londoner drinks 2-3 cups of coffee per day, which produces 200,000 tonnes of coffee waste a year and subsequently 6000 litres of coffee oil readily available to be converted into biofuel. The remaining solids are converted into biomass pellets which form an additional source of wood fuel as a side line.

This liquid biofuel (B20) can then be used in its current state to fuel London's buses without the need for modification. Coffee actually has a higher calorific value than wood so it turns out that morning cuppa could inadvertently be benefiting the environment, as well as your own energy levels!

As fossil fuels begin to dwindle in popularity, some argue that biofuels have a role to play in encouraging new and more diverse forms of urban mobility. To define it simply, a biofuel is basically a substance made from a living organism that we can use to power something. With mounting pressure against using food crops as fuel due to the land required and potential disruption to food supply, using waste products (e.g. coffee grounds) is increasingly being viewed as a more socially acceptable alternative. Similar schemes have been successful in other cities such as Stockholm, where biofuels have been used to power 5000 cars (including taxis) and 300 buses. Households are provided with different coloured bags to filter out organic waste from landfill as well as engines and petrol stations being encouraged to convert to allow use of bio-fuel.

Although such biofuels may be insufficient to replace fossil fuels completely, rapid progress is also being made in adopting electric vehicles which will form part of a low-carbon energy mix in advance of the looming UK petrol/diesel ban in 2040. London has also recently committed to rolling out 300 zero-emission buses by 2020, with 51 battery-powered electric buses and a hydrogen double-decker now in public use.

See recent article: Hybrid, plug-in hybrid or full electric car – which one is for me?’.

Use of biofuels in transportation effectively reduces carbon output and results in fewer harmful pollutants. For example, biodiesel produces less soot (particulate matter), carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons, and sulphur dioxide.

Using coffee grounds to power London’s buses is undoubtedly a step in the right direction and will hopefully inspire others in cities to monitor their carbon footprint derived from moving about. In conjunction with the rising number of electric vehicles, this technology can play a pivotal role in demonstrating how local actions we take as individuals can add up forming a global impact.



Image credit: Tom Ray

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