The popular red buses of the capital are now being tested with a newly developed biofuel, called B20; 20 percent wasted Coffee Grounds. The biofuel is produced by the startup company bio-bean and the grounds are taken from well-known coffee shop chains Costa and Caffè Nero. The project is part of an initiative of the Transport for London (TfL) aimed at reducing emissions by powering public transportation vehicles with biofuels. The majority of the 9,500 buses driven around London are already using alternative fuels made out of meat tallow.

The production process

Bio-bean, in partnership with the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, has developed a technology that separates the coffee grounds into oil (about 20 percent) and solid residuals (the remaining 80 percent). Next, the oil is blended with diesel, while the rest can be transformed into pellets for stoves. It's calculated that slightly more than 2.55 million is the number of cups of coffee needed to power one Red Bus for one year. According to data, in 2015, London’s buses used 240 million litres of diesel fuel. The good news is that no modification is needed for buses to work with the new biofuel.

Unfortunately for Londoners, no aroma of Roman café, or even of a Starbucks for that matter, will raise the spirits of a rainy winter afternoon in the capital.

The proportion of coffee in the fuel is too little for the odour to be perceptible. Moreover, the oil is distilled, blended, and mixed in a process that removes all the remaining flavour.

The environmental benefits

By reducing waste and the use of fossil fuels to power vehicles the project has a positive impact on the environment.

Every year, 200 thousand tons of wasted coffee grounds are discharged in one of the damps surrounding London. Subsequently, they cause the liberation of 126 million kilograms of CO2. If this experiment is proved successful, it will be possible to reduce this waste by reusing the coffee as fuel for all public buses and, eventually, for other vehicles.

The project, however, is still in its trial phase and only 6,000 litres of the coffee-biofuel have been produced so far.

Another advantage of producing fuel from coffee is it does not consume any land, contrarily to the so-called 'first-generation biofuels'. These fuels are made using corn, palm, or canola, which need to be cultivated on fields that were previously dedicated to agriculture. Moreover, first-generation biofuels nowadays account for 7 percent of the total European transportation costs, which is the reason why the European Commission is aiming at replacing them by 2030.