Domestically Challenged Scientist Discovers New Fuel Source

Talk about recycling:

“One night, I had left a cup of coffee out, and the next morning I saw this thin layer of oil around the edges,” said [Manoranjan] Misra, a chemical and metallurgical professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.

He discovered the oil was triglyceride.

With the help of post-doctoral scholar Susanta K. Mohapatra and graduate student Narasimha Kondamudi, Misra developed a patent-pending process to extract the oil from spent coffee grounds to produce a high-quality biodiesel fuel.

Biofuel has been made with whole coffee beans but Misra says his idea is the first to use the waste product. He estimates that almost 3 million gallons of biodiesel could be produced annually out of the coffee grounds generated by Starbucks alone. Cheaper to produce than fuel made with corn or soy, the grounds could be processed a third time into fuel for pellet-burning stoves for home heating.

Questions remain as to whether the coffee fuel will be cost-effective to transport or if production makes sense only for areas with concentrations of coffee houses. It also must be tested for pollution emissions. One thing for sure, the exhaust fumes–which reportedly smell like stale coffee–would be more aromatically pleasing for pedestrians and cyclists than those from the traditional type of diesel.

This is a biodiesel two-fer. Jump for the second one.

On another biodiesel front, here is a link to a company taking algae to a higher level, and an article on its partnership with Chevron in creating algal biodiesel through a fermentation process not unlike that which a brewer of beer uses.

Solazyme isn’t the only startup looking at algae as a fuel source. Nor is the idea particularly new. Researchers explored producing methane gas from algae as far back as the 1950s.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., spent almost 20 years working with algae, starting in 1978. Algae naturally produce a type of oil, and the lab’s researchers examined more than 3,000 strains to see which had the most potential to make oil in large quantities. They built open-air, algae-growing pools in Roswell, N.M., to test their theories.

But like many other energy research programs started in the 1970s, the algae study eventually lost its funding, closing shop in 1996. The federal Energy Department decided to put the money into exploring cellulosic ethanol instead. Plus, oil was relatively cheap at the time. The search for substitutes lost its urgency.

Pond-scum “petrol” is not expected to be available for purchase anytime soon, but Solazyme hopes that Chevron will help it increase production and drive down costs to the point that it becomes feasible to market.