Can Coffee Produce Electricity?

Many people rely on their morning coffee to get them fueled and ready for the day, but can coffee produce electricity that could help to power appliances, homes and businesses? Is it possible to harness the jolt of energy that your morning java gives to you to power your tablet or keep your house toasty warm?

Budding scientists from around the world have been making batteries out of miscellaneous citrus juices and metals for years. Just about every high school science fair has at least one battery, made from lemon juice and a strip or two of aluminum foil on display.

Coffee, though? Really? Well, the concept of converting coffee waste into electricity isn't a new idea, but it is certainly a compelling one. It's not a well known concept, but the idea has been growing in popularity and relevance in the last several years. This concept of creating clean energy from a waste product has gotten some recognition from scientists, coffee growers, manufacturers, environmental groups and energy companies worldwide in the last few years.

The Process

On a small scale, the process by which electricity is created from coffee is rather simple. One method is so simple it could be implemented in small businesses and even in private homes around the world.

This method involves collecting used coffee grounds and using them as a fuel. Waste coffee grounds are collected from coffee stands, households, cafes and other sources. The grounds are then dried and are then compressed into solid log shaped masses which can then be burned, creating heat and energy.

This process is perfect for smaller scale projects and could help bring heat to families who rely on wood burning stoves as their primary source of heat.

If this process were to be accepted on a larger scale, it would also prevent coffee grounds from coffee stands and houses, restaurants and even private homes from polluting the environment and could potentially provide heat for small communities.

Large Scale Production

lightning bulb with coffee beans

Of course converting coffee waste into energy at any level will be helpful to the environment and potentially profitable for both those producing and benefiting from it.

Yet the impact on the environment and the possible financial benefits will be felt most if this process is adapted on a larger scale. Scientists in the UK are working closely with scientists and coffee growers in Columbia to create large-scale and long-term solutions.

After coffee beans have been picked, they are processed. During the coffee bean processing stage, farmers clean and wash the beans to prepare them for production and resale. A natural by-product of this process is called wastewater.

The wastewater produced while preparing beans to be manufactured into instant coffee is particularly harmful to the environment. This pollutant has not gone unnoticed by environmental protection groups.

Seeing the potential to convert coffee into usable energy, while helping the environment, scientists from the UK started working on a new plan. In a collaboration with Colombian scientists and farmers, they started researching the possibility of turning coffee wastewater into electricity. During their research, they discovered something amazing!

According to an article published in 2018 on The UK Research and Innovation website, researchers and scientists discovered a community of microbes that resided in a wastewater treatment plant.

These tiny microbes had an amazing ability and might be key to making coffee farming more efficient. The microbes were able to consume the waste and degrade the matter in the wastewater. In turn, they were able to convert the pollutant into energy. The energy produced was then harnessed and converted into a small electric current using something known as a microbial fuel cell.

The amount of energy recovered from this process is not sizable, but it is a step in the right direction. It may not be enough energy to light an entire city but it will make an impact on the farmers who implement it and companies who take advantage of the research.

Environmental Impact

We live in a modern world that is focused on creating and discovering new, cleaner fuels to help combat global warming and other environmental concerns. Our high-tech and fast paced life and appetite for indulgence has left an imprint on the environment. This type of consumerism at any cost mentality has led to what some people feel is a global environmental crisis.

That is why, we as a society, are also searching for ways to reduce our waste and footprint. The idea of turning coffee waste into electricity seems to address both of these important issues by turning a product that could be potentially harmful to the environment into a clean form of much needed energy.

Economic Impact

bulb inside the cup

The idea of converting coffee into energy is appealing to many large corporations and even to smaller parts of the coffee industry. Seeing the potential for saving money and helping the environment simultaneously, large corporations are beginning to invest time and money into the research. On a smaller scale, farmers are also beginning to see the potential and are implementing these practices to reduce their cost of production.

The potential for economic relief for farmers and greater profits for large companies is definitely a motivation for corporations and farmers to work with scientists and governments to see how these findings can be implemented and expanded. It is likely that we will see more research on using coffee waste and other food by-products as fuel in the near future.

Bottom Line

You may already think of your coffee as an important part of your daily survival, but it is interesting to see that something as simple as coffee could be used to help the environment by producing clean energy and make farming more efficient, cleaner and more economical. While coffee waste is not likely to solve the world's energy crisis, it is encouraging to see that there are legitimate efforts being made to use our resources responsibly and efficiently.

So the next time you are enjoying your favorite cup of Joe, consider the possibilities for the future where coffee will be fueling more than your daily activities.