A few years ago as an architecture student at The Bartlett, UCL, I was set the task of designing a coffee shop and roastery. I soon realised that coffee was being wasted everywhere. Waste coffee grounds are often separated at source and have a high calorific value, so the energy potential was huge.
But such waste mostly goes to landfill, so I thought about what else it could be used for. What if coffee waste could be recycled to produce fuel that could power cities, buildings and even cars?
Three years later, Bio-bean recycles waste coffee grounds into a number of advanced bio-fuels. The company is now launching its first consumer-facing product: coffee logs.
Each year the UK burns millions of tonnes of imported woody biomass, not to mention coal, so, for some time, Bio-bean has been developing a better solution. Its technical team has developed biomass briquettes, or coffee logs, made from waste grounds.
Alongside the company’s business-to-business products (biomass pellets and, in the near future, bio-diesel), coffee logs replace wood and coal to be used in a range of household appliances such as wood-burning stoves, chimeneas, barbecues, pizza ovens, smokers or simple open fires.
In association with several waste management companies, Bio-bean collects tens of thousands of tonnes of waste coffee grounds from London and sites further afield. This waste is aggregated and shipped to its factory in Alconbury Weald, Cambridgeshire, where the waste is dried.
The exact mechanics of log production remains commercially confidential, but is the result of substantial research and development in the past year.
A proportion of coffee grounds are combined with other natural waste materials and processed into cylindrical 70mm briquettes using a large-scale, industrial briquetter. This produces durable, long-burning fuels with a high calorific value that burn longer and hotter than wood.
Coffee logs can also include oversize particles, a stream that would otherwise go to compost.
Bio-bean’s factory has the capacity to process 50,000 tonnes of waste grounds a year, equating to one in 10 cups of coffee drunk in the UK. By recycling coffee waste and supplying it back to consumers or businesses that produce coffee grounds, the process helps to create a circular economy opportunity from what would previously have been considered a waste stream.
This is the company’s underlying ethos: that waste is simply resources in the wrong place. Biobean aims to save money for its clients at every stage, both in coffee grounds collection and in supplying highly-efficient, costeffective fuels.
It is now exploring the opportunities for sales and distribution ofcoffee logs in time for the heating fuel season. For businesses that produce coffee waste, Bio-bean offers comprehensive collection opportunities that have commercial and environmental advantages. For those that have the potential to use coffee logs, an excellent circular economy opportunity exists to close off waste streams.
I am personally excited about coffee logs. All the industries they could disrupt have a static set of products based around wood that is mainly imported. Coffee logs are a biofuel made from a substance that most people waste.
Now, when the barrista taps out from your morning cappuccino, the coffee grounds go back into the system, perhaps providing the heat as you drink in comfort.
Arthur Kay is co-founder and chief executive of Bio-bean
MRW national recycling awards 2016
- Bio-bean is a finalist in MRW’s National Recycling Awards for its business partnership with First Mile
- Network Rail is a finalist in the Best Energy From Waste Initiative category for its coffee recycling initiative with Bio-bean
- Arthur Kay won last year’s RWM Rising Stars prize