It’s good to dream
Like many people, when I first heard of the Coffee Car in passing I assumed it was a new luxury sedan in a rich mocha brown color.
After I learned it was an alternative fuel car, I jumped to the conclusion that it used brewed coffee pumped directly into the gas tank in lieu of gasoline.
Imagine the convenience of a Starbucks Card for use in the café and at the gas pump! I further hoped it had an aromatic exhaust like a prized single origin coffee from Ethiopia and came equipped with an automotive espresso maker.
As it turns out, the car of the future runs on roast coffee byproduct.
What will they think of next?
Martin Bacon, an English inventor and eco-engineer, has created several cars that run on coffee. The first model was made for a BBC television program and was built in four days using scrap materials.
His tinkering and ingenuity have led to two Guinness World Records, one for land speed by a coffee powered truck and one for longest journey traveled by a coffee powered car.
There are multiple versions of the Coffee Car. The truck, also known as the Mean Bean Machine, looks like a mobile coffee roaster with the gasification equipment installed in the truck bed. It sustained a top speed of 65.5 mph for the record. It then toured around the UK this spring in a 1600-mile coffee-fueled publicity tour.
To indulge the curiously caffeinated among us, I will compare the car to a coffee maker. A Bialetti stovetop espresso maker requires heat to gradually build steam pressure within the main chamber, releasing it up through the ground coffee when the proper pressure is achieved. In this manner, espresso is extracted. This is a simplification and a bit of a stretch to explain the gasification process used to power the Coffee Car.
Gasification converts organic material through a high temperature burn into a combustible powerful enough to run a car, truck or bus. It is an old technology, last widely used during the 1940s with coal and peat. Coffee waste is one of many possible fuel sources and much more interesting to consider than a car powered by industrial waste.
Waste not, want not
It is exciting to see coffee waste being re-used in new and creative ways.
In the United States X-Cafe, a coffee flavor extract company in Maine, has 200,000 to 400,000 pounds of coffee waste per week. Paul Kalenian, President of X-Cafe, investigated a solution to pelletize and distribute coffee waste. “Most people don’t realize that 80% of a coffee bean is wood fiber!” Kalenian told UMaine Today. In the Northeastern part of the US coffee pellets could be used as fuel for home heating.
But what actually fuels the Coffee Car’s gasification? Those pellets are made out of coffee chaff.
Chaff consists of light, airy pieces of green coffee bean skin that sheds during different stages of the roast. Some roasters have a separate chaff collector, without which the chaff can create a tar-like burnt mess inside the roaster.
This is what fuels the Coffee Car. The collected chaff is dried and pelletized. Blogger and coffee lover Marco Arment estimates that, “they’d need to roast about 5,000 pounds of coffee to produce the 22 pounds of chaff needed to power this car for 55 miles.” Coffee chaff seems like a novel idea, but not necessarily a scalable alternative fuel solution.
Coffee chaff is proportionately a small contributor of waste in the bean to cup cycle. The real trick would be for a company to create a fuel with actual post-consumer coffee waste including the paper cup, wooden stir stick, coffee filter and spent grounds.
Spread the word
The Coffee Car is a vehicle to showcase the mission of the Teasdale Conservation Volunteers, and The Co-operative champions of British farming and fair trade. If it ignites interest and keeps the conservation conversation going around the world then the Coffee Car has done its job. Although it is not the luxury auto I initially envisioned, in all fairness it is currently the ultimate (coffee) driving machine.