Coffee Pellets (Photo Courtesy of SRG Inc.)
Coffee is a favored beverage for many - according to the National Coffee Association, Americans drink a staggering 580 million cups of it per day, which makes the United States the world's largest consumer of coffee by far. One of the less talked about consequences of this is that the United States is thus also the world's leading producers of coffee grounds. Most of that ends up in landfills, which may not be the best place for them, given that this biomass has value as an energy source.
Sustainable Resources Group Inc. of Coatesville, PA is working with Penn State students to take advantage of this opportunity by producing biomass fuel pellets from used coffee grounds. "The spent coffee grounds have much higher BTU content per pound than typical woody biomass. With projects like this and others, Sustainable Resources Group is turning waste into a renewable energy source and reducing the world's dependence on depleting natural resources. That's really an exciting prospect" says Connor Gingrich, Penn State Junior in Energy Business and Finance. Gingrich's project is to investigate and develop markets for these "coffee pellets".
In short, their plan is to construct and operate a pelleting operation near the Nescafe plant in Freehold NJ. When operational, they will be able to divert over 60,000 tons of coffee grounds from the landfill, and instead densify them into pellets that will be suitable for use as a heating fuel in residential, commercial, or industrial applications. With its higher BTU content, their coffee pellet has the opportunity to displace a significant amount of the biomass pellet market while eliminating the disposal of a like amount of material to the nation's landfills.
World wood pellet production has steadily grown over the past 20 years, and recently exceeded the 30 million ton mark. Europe and North America consume the vast majority of that, although Asia has potential to dramatically grow in the coming years. In the United States, pellets produced in the Northeast and the West are generally used for home and business heating, while pellets produced in the southern states are primarily exported to Europe for power generation. Interestingly enough, world coffee production is about 8.5 million tons. The energy potential from not just the grounds, but from husks and other wastes, could be rather significant.
So, will your favorite coffee shop be heating itself with coffee pellets in the near future? Time will tell. If you'd like to learn more about this project, contact Connor Gingrich at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prepared by Daniel Ciolkosz, Penn State Extension, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering