Chloe Schneider, 6 October 2015

Coffee fuels the people and, to some extent, the economy. But why stop there?

Arthur Kay was studying architecture at The Bartlett, UCL where he was set the challenge of designing a coffee shop and coffee roaster. During the process he, “quickly realized that coffee was being wasted everywhere. It was pouring out of coffee shops, office blocks, transport hubs and factories.”

Instead of seeing this waste as a challenge, Kay looked at it as an opportunity and discovered a way to refine the phenomenally high oil content in waste coffee grounds into biodiesel. He calls this remarkable discovery a ‘happy surprise’, but what happened next was considered, determined and very coincidental.

With the process scientifically proven, Kay founded bio-bean, a London-based company that has partnered with existing supply chain partners to collect the city’s 200,000 tons of wasted coffee grounds and convert them into biomass pellets. These biomass pellets can then be used for heating buildings like supermarkets and office blocks. In addition, coffee oil has numerous applications and markets all over the world including biodiesel which could power transportation machines.

One of the things that has helped Kay raise several million dollars in financing, and attract endorsements from the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Boris Johnson is his refusal, even as a start up, to settle for small-scale. He has set his sights on the opportunities for major companies to save money while increasing sustainability, saying, “Every building needs heat, every engine needs fuel. Bio-bean is a truly scalable solution and could be adapted to every city (provided they drink coffee) plus both coffee and biofuel markets are expanding rapidly.”

This large-scale thinking is logistically realistic too. Research from the University of Bath Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies shows that around 8 million tons of coffee are produced each year worldwide, and ground coffee waste contains up to 20 percent oil per unit weight. It is estimated a small coffee shop would produce around 10kg of coffee waste per day, which could be used to produce around 2 litres of biofuel.

“We want to see waste coffee grounds (and, over time, other waste streams) disposed of in the most transparent, sustainable and valuable way possible.” Kay says, “We are building a stamp that certifies responsible disposal of waste coffee grounds and of course our model works best when we sell our biofuels back to coffee waste producers, creating a circular economy.”

Like any small business with world-first and lofty goals, Kay has been forced to overcome setbacks along the path to success. He explains, “The logistical challenges of collecting thousands of tons of a dispersed material have been significantly helped by partnering with existing waste management infrastructure. As a small company that disrupts existing systems and interfaces with big corporations, we’ve needed to prove we are here to stay. That means hiring experts and being faultless and consistent in our service”

When it comes to the future, Kay believes that success is about more than him and his company. He says he hopes to, “continue spreading the message that it’s up to our generation to design tomorrow today, whilst turning the challenges of urbanisation into opportunities.”

Now that’s something we can all raise our cappuccino to.

Extracted in full from Mashable.