Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Bio-fuels seem to be a hot topic lately. People say we need an alternative to gasoline, and I would agree. But some major figures promote bio-fuels as a viable alternative - something to bridge the gap between the gasoline dependent lifestyle of today to the clean fuels of tomorrow. I have heard many people, from President Obama to the commercials on televsion, promote the use of biofuels to bridge this "gap."

Ever since I started learning about the environment, energy conservation, climate change, water consumption, and all of the other scary things out in the world, I have always been against the use and development of biofuels. The biggest reason for this is that all of the biofuels that I have heard of (up until today) are generally foods that people eat (mostly corn and soy - both products heavily grown in the U.S. and subsidized by the U.S. government). My first thought about this is, "How can we justify using food crops for transportation when other people around the world don't have enough food to eat?" Or, "Where will all of the land, nitrogen, and, most importantly, water come from to grow enough to run any society on biofuels?"
Cornfields Near Arles
Vincent Van Gogh

As far as I'm concerned, there are no positive answers to these questions. I think that if the U.S. government suddenly made the switch to subsidize the development of alternative, renewable, and clean energy sources (in my book that means wind and solar) the way the government subsidizes the corn, oil, and coal industries, then we would definitely be having a different conversation. But for now, since the U.S. has the infrastructure for a bio-fuel intensive alternative to gasoline and the people with the money are the people pushing the legislation which are also the people with "if it's not oil then it will be bio-fuel" agendas, I've been wondering what might be a possible alternative.

This morning when I was driving to work, a segment called Isle Earth Radio Series came on the radio, just like it does every morning. Every day they send out a quick segment about environmental things from energy issues to wildlife conservation. Today's was about bio-fuels. But this segment was about research involving coffee grounds as the bio-fuel, instead of the traditional ethanol (corn).

This research has to do with developing a bio-fuel based on coffee grounds. The benefits to this approach is that it is based on a medium that would otherwise be simply thrown away. There is already land, water, and soil devoted to the growing of coffee beans; the beans are already being transported from their growing places around the world, and they will be grown regardless of whether or not the grounds are used for bio-fuels.

I think this is a very interesting research development. According to the radio segment, coffee ground biodiesel could add about 340 million grounds of biodiesel. And this is a biodiesel market that is expected to hit about 300 billion gallons annually by 2010.

I would be interested to see what the effects of this approach would be, however. For instance, would this development cause a growing of coffee beans for bio-fuel exceeding the demand of global coffee drinkers? One great thing about this approach, regardless of other consequences, is that the end product apparently smells just like coffee. Yum!

Photo Credits:

Cornfields Near Arles
Wind Turbine
Coffee Beans

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