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London buses now recharge with coffee

We're talking about adding more caffeine to your morning trip

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Coffee, the engine (literal) of London's mornings
Coffee, the engine (literal) of London’s mornings

Attention Londoners: your morning trip is about to get an additional advantage. Last Monday, the British bio-bean startup, in partnership with Shell and Argent Energy, introduced small quantities of its biofuel with a coffee base in diesel buses in London. Seriously, coffee.

Although cooking oil and oil from fats were tested to feed a third of the city’s 9,500 buses in 2016, this is the first time coffee has done it on the public transport system, apart from, of course, the innumerable cups of Pret and Caffè Nero that keep the Londoners running against the clock.

Although the oil does not give off a latte smell , unfortunately (the cappuccino runs seem too good to be real), the project is an important step in the reduction of toxic air pollution in London.

“We have a health crisis in London caused directly by the air of poor quality,” Mayor Sadiq Khan told the BBC in October. “Generally speaking, more than 9,000 Londoners die prematurely due to poor air quality.”

British authorities have encouraged drivers to use diesel engines with low carbon emissions for years, even offering lower taxes to vehicles as an incentive. However, the fuel still produces toxic fumes and contributes to air pollution, and London is looking for new ways to refuel its buses. Coffee oil emits 10-15 percent less CO2 than traditional mineral diesel, says bio-bean on its website, and makes good use of the 200,000 tons of ground coffee that Londoners produce each year (a average of 2’3 cups of coffee per person, daily).

To produce the fuel, the startup collects coffee waste from coffee shops, restaurants and factories. Then, dry the grains, extracting the coffee oil with a biochemical process that uses a solvent. The oil is combined with other fuels obtaining the B20 hybrid fuel, which can be used in diesel buses without any modification. Due to its high caloric content and valuable compounds, coffee beans become an ideal clean energy resource. However, a lot of coffee needs to be consumed to make fuel: 2.55 million cups of coffee are needed to create enough biofuel to supply a bus for a year, according to bio-bean.

“We see this as the next step in creating a sustainable supply chain,” bio-bean CEO Arthur Kay told The Guardian. “People have focused a lot on the first stage of the supply chain, and on the movements of Fair Trade and the Alliance for Forests towards an ethical harvest of coffee, but as soon as someone consumes it, it seems like the end of it. – We are saying that the next step of sustainability is to close the loop and ethically get rid of it, and create something really valuable from this chain”.

Currently, there is no formal agreement for bio-bean to continue supplying coffee oil to London; however, the company expects to expand rapidly to other markets. “There is enormous potential for this project to expand to the United States, the largest coffee consumer on the planet, with some 400 million cups per day,” the company said in a written statement, according to CNN Tech.

While it may take time for coffee oil to enter the dominant energy market, there are still a lot of alternative fuels that are being explored. In fact, the aviation industry has recently made progress in providing its aircraft with plant-based fuels: South African Airways traveled from Johannesburg to Cape Town with fuel made from tobacco plants, while Alaska Airlines used forest residues (like stumps and tree branches) to fly from Seattle to Washington DC

Between your morning cup of coffee and the branches scattered around your yard, the things you interact with every day could soon be the engine of the world.

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