Sunday, 14 June 2009

Drink More Coffee and Save the Environment!

Ah! I'm dying for a cup of coffee!

Coffee is a $70 billion global industry (twice the size of the Hollywood entertainment industry). 80% of Americans and a high percentage of people elsewhere drink coffee regularly to become alert and stay awake. New research at the university of Nevada shows promise that coffee can save the environment too.

Photo source: Wikimedia commons 

Since coffee was discovered in Ethiopia and spread around the 11th century in the Arab empire, it has either been promoted as a wonder drink or a terrible health hazard. Historically, the caffeine drink was well suited to Muslims, because the stimulating effects of caffeine helped stay awake and alert during prayers. 

Coffee is popular also with non-Muslim coffee drinkers globally , who need to stay awake and alert for whatever reason they have.

Coffee Banning was Common in Europe

Photo source:

Allen, Stewart in his book, The Devil's Cup gives a history of coffee banning. Coffee was put on trial in Mecca as a heretical substance and banned in Ottoman Turkey. Pope Clement VIII got addicted to coffee and resisted banning it. 
"Why, this 'Satan's drink' is so delicious it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptising it and making it a truly Christian beverage." 

  • The Ethiopian Orthodox Christians banned coffee till 1889, because it was a Muslim drink. 
  • King Charles II banned coffee in England (for 11 days only, as the king gave in to coffee shop owner protests), because in Europe it was associated with rebellious political activities. 
  • In Germany Frederick the Great tried in 1777 to ban coffee so that money wouldn’t go out of the country. 

How Drinking Coffee can Save the Environment

Professor Manoranjan Misra
, Narasimharao Kondamudi and Susanta Mohapatra of the University of Nevada at Reno have found a way to develop biofuels from used coffee grounds (the powdery remains in the machine, which is thrown away after coffee has been prepared).

Photo source: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

If this method of preparing bio-diesel spreads, soon all the cities will have a whiff of coffee in the exhaust smell. Not only is coffee-grounds efficient as it yields 10-15% of biodiesel by weight, the resulting biodiesel high viscosity and standard engines can use that easily. Professor Misra claims that 5-7 kgs of coffee grounds could yield a litre of biodiesel.

Some ingenuous people can already make biodiesel from leftover and recycled cooking oils at home, coffee-based biodiesel is better suited to larger scale industrial processing. The biodiesel manufacturing process of transesterification, where the grounds reacts with alcohol in the presence of catalysts, might pose unnecessary risks of the alcohol being directly consumed by thirsty DIY chemists.

There is however, a drawback. New Scientist claims that about 140 litres of water is needed to grow the coffee beans needed to produce one cup of coffee, and the coffee is often grown in countries where there is a water shortage, such as Ethiopia.

Is it time to buy shares of Starbucks and coffee producers for your grandchildren?

Photo source:

Further reading: Narasimharao Kondamudi, Susanta K. Mohapatra, Mano Misra (2008). Spent Coffee Grounds as a Versatile Source of Green Energy Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 56 (24), 11757-11760 DOI: 10.1021/jf802487s


Aswani said...

Very good info related to coffee. Well, I don't drink coffee to be honest. I don't take tea also. I gave up both 2 years back.

puresunshine said...

interesting. in england coffee houses were seen as rebellion houses as all literaries against the church and the ruler would meet here and plan their moves. Reminded me of my literature lessons!

Amin23 said...

Very interesting and new technology with much potential. But, 140 litres of water is a lot. One good thing is that we having alternatives to fossil fuel.

kupila said...

I'd love driving my car with used coffee. Maybe I'd start my own processing business as my family drinks lots of coffee per day.

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