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Kona Coffee Biodiesel
15 December 2008


I just filled up my truck with gas and only paid $2.05 per gallon.  That's higher that the national average but nearly half what it was just a few months ago.  Between the truck, tractor, mower and various equipment, Kona coffee farming requires a fair amount of fuel.  That's why I was interested to hear that it's possible to turn coffee into biodiesel.

If you haven't heard of biodiesel, it is basically just diesel fuel that is made from plants instead of pumped out of the ground.  Biodiesel is generally used as an additive but it can be a complete replacement too.  Soybeans and canola are common feedstocks for making biodiesel.  Now, researchers at the University of Nevada-Reno have made biodiesel from coffee.

Kona Coffee Apparently used coffee grounds contain about the same amount of oil, 11-20%, as canola, soybeans and other biodiesel feedstocks.  The research scientists were able to collect spent coffee grounds from a local Starbucks, separate the oils and turn it into biodiesel fuel.  The coffee-based fuel actually smells like roasted coffee.  Also, because of the high antioxidant content, the coffee-based fuel is more stable than other biodiesels.

The researchers made fuel from leftover coffee grounds which would have been thrown out anyways.  If that's not environmentally friendly, I don't know what is.  The researchers estimated that coffee grounds could potentially produce 350 million gallons of biodiesel and a profit of $8 million per year.  They plan to start a pilot program to produce and test the coffee biodiesel.

Of course research is still a long ways from practicality.  Biodiesel could help reduce dependency on foreign oil and could potentially be environmentally friendly.  For now though, biodiesel is more expensive than fossil fuels and has a greater carbon footprint because it often displaces food crops.  Diverting food crops into fuel production means means higher food costs and more land clearing but using spent coffee grounds might avoid both of those problems.

One of the nice parts about farming is the feeling of self sufficiency.  Being able to grow my own biodiesel would be way cool.  Being able to grow biodiesel for the rest of the world would be even more way cool.  Of course the extra income stream would be the way coolest.  I'd feel like a Texan that discovered oil in his backyard.

I'm not going to hold my breath though.  Kona is possibly the most expensive to produce coffee in the world.  Coffee from other countries aren't nearly as tasty as Kona coffee but I doubt anybody's tractor would mind.  I'll keep my eye on this development but for now I'll just be happy that the price of normal gas is $2.05 instead of $5.02.

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