Coffee, You Can Drive My Car

Ransom Riggs

My current car lease is up in a few months, and I'm considering getting the new Volkswagen Jetta TDI, aka the "Clean Diesel," which gets around 30 city / 40 highway and is one of the cleanest-burning cars on the road. It's also capable of running on certain types of biodiesel -- and why not; the original diesel engine, built in 1893, was designed to run on peanut oil, not petroleum oil -- an enormously appealing idea to me. Especially given the recent news that it's possible to make high-quality biodiesel from coffee grounds, which means I could aspire to be the ultimate yuppie just by driving my VW Jetta (sometimes called "the Apple of cars") while both myself and my vehicle are powered by Starbucks.

Here's the scoop: there's a perfectly good reason that no one thought of powering cars with coffee grounds before now, and that's that only about 15% of coffee grounds are oil, which is, as you might've guessed, the key ingredient when it comes to making fuel. (Most other biodiesel feedstocks, as they're called, are a bit higher than 15%.) This would equal a big red stop sign for most other potential fuel technologies, except for the fact that we don't grow coffee just to be used as fuel -- it's a by-product of extant human activity (to the tune of about 16 billion pounds of grounds a year) which can either end up in our landfills or our gas tanks.

Some numbers: as of right now, researchers believe this process could produce around 340 million gallons of coffee biodiesel per year, which could mean about $8 million in fuel-related profits for Starbucks alone. (Not bad for something that used to be trash.) Add this to the growing list of things I'd rather power my car with, like garbage (cellulosic ethanol) and hydrogen.

Image & link courtesy Ecogeek.