We've come a long way from cappuccinos in styrofoam cups and lukewarm Nescafes sipped over the sink (some of us won't even drink instant anymore.) An estimated 1.7 billion cups of coffee are sold in the UK each year and the number of coffee outlets is predicted to increase from 18,000 to 21,000 in 2020. Brits are well and truly ensconced in coffee's buzzy embrace.
But with all this grinding and sipping comes a lot of waste—namely the coffee grounds that remain after roasted coffee beans are brewed. While your mum has probably been distributing these residual particles on her rose beds for years (the high nitrogen and tannic acid levels in coffee grounds mean they're an excellent soil conditioner), research has also found that due to a high percentage of oil weight, spent coffee grounds also make effective biodiesel.
London startup Bio-bean is tapping into this potential as it announced this week that it will be collecting coffee waste from cafes across the capital, to be used to heat the equivalent of thousands of homes by the end of the year.
As the Evening Standard reports, the company will be taking its van to 100 central London cafes, including independent coffee shops and outlets in seven of the city's largest railway stations. The coffee grounds will be collected and taken to a processing plant just north of the capital to be turned into pellets, which will be burnt in biomass boilers to produce energy.
Speaking to the paper, Bio-bean spokesman Daniel Crockett said: "We wanted to build it inside London but we aren't at that stage yet. We're collecting from cafes, office blocks and transport hubs—we're filling up the Monopoly board!"
At first, only a couple of hundred tons of coffee will be collected each week but Bio-bean, who won Mayor of London Boris Johnson's inaugural low carbon entrepreneur award in 2012 hopes to process the equivalent of 50,000 tons a year by 2016. At peak production, the startup could be producing enough pellets to heat 15,000 London homes.
Bio-bean isn't alone in seeking alternative uses for coffee waste. Nescafe already uses coffee as a heat source to cook food at 22 of its 28 coffee factories and Starbucks is working to convert grounds into laundry detergents and bioplastics. Other startups focus on waste before the beans have even been brewed, with coffee "flour" made from the pulp of discarded coffee cherries being touted as the next health food.
While 50,000 tons of coffee grounds sounds like more than enough to be contend with, Bio-bean eventually hopes to extract fuel from waste coffee. It could only be a matter of time before your morning tube ride is powered by the dregs of the coffee you grab on the way to the station.