Caffé Fuel: How coffee could revolutionize biofuels

Plant-based biofuels have been researched and explored since the 19th century, but there has yet to be a reliable plant-based source of energy. Little did we know, the answer might have been in our hand this whole time. The University of Nevada has developed a groundbreaking process to produce alternative bio-diesel fuels from coffee ground waste and Melanie Dolezal, Dharshini D. Balasubramaniyan, and Jaime Schwarzbach from the University have created an early stage start-up from this named Caffé Fuel.

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Bio-diesel is growing in popularity because it is safer than petroleum-based diesel, is biodegradable, and produces fewer emissions. Ethanol, made from cornstarch, is currently the most significant biofuel, accounting for 94 percent of all biofuel consumption. In 2011, there were 1 billion gallons of biofuels produced in the United States alone, so finding an alternate source of biofuel will take the weight off the corn industry.

The process began with researchers Narasimharao Kondamudi, Susanta Mohapatra and Manoranjan Misra of the University of Nevada finding that coffee grounds can yield 15% of biodiesel by weight, do not yield an offensive smell, and can still be used for compost after the process is completed.

Image Source: University of Nevada, Reno

The idea came by accident, when Dr. Misra noticed a film of oil had covered his leftover coffee. He brought on Dr. Kondamudi and Dr. Mohapatra to question the theory of creating biofuel from coffee grounds. With a supply of coffee grounds from the Starbucks on campus, they discovered that coffee biofuel was comparable to other biofuels on the market. But coffee biofuel had a few advantages over the competition; it has less viscosity, requiring little to no engine alterations in order to burn, and does not drive production away from the food industry.


The process they used to extract the biofuel from the coffee grounds involves transesterification, where the oil in the coffee reacts with an alcohol (ethanol) to form mono-alkyl ester, or biodiesel and crude glycerol. Initially, the grounds are dried for 24 hours and the oils are chemically dissolved. “The remaining oil is treated with an alkali to remove free fatty acids (which form a soap). Then the crude biodiesel is heated to about 100ºC to remove any water, and treated with methanol and a catalyst, so that transesterification takes place. When cooled to room temperature and left to stand, the biodiesel floats up, leaving a layer of glycerine at the bottom. These layers are separated and the biodiesel is cleaned to remove any residues.”

Executing the process with 10-15 pounds of coffee grounds will yield roughly ¼ of gallon of biodiesel, so it is better suited for larger facilities. Overall, this process could change the biodiesel industry and it is estimated that the process could add 340 million gallons of bio-diesel to the world’s fuel supply, and could reduce global warming. Once funded, Caffé Fuel intends to set up a pilot plant in Reno, NV and begin selling coffee biofuel as soon as possible.

The US patent will be issued later in 2013 and is incredibly broad. The breadth of the patent provides a great deal of security for the company and potential investors. Questions? Comments? Email Us.

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5 Responses to Caffé Fuel: How coffee could revolutionize biofuels

  1. Donna Sinclair says:

    Excellent article and find on another use of coffee. I guess we’ve all experienced the oily residue that coffee can sometimes leave but who would think it could be used to make biodiesel. For my part, my coffee grinds go straight into a compost bin but to even think that there is a step before that process that can help the environment is remarkable.

  2. mindy rosario says:

    Do you have any video on your biofuel process? I’m a producer on a TV show about coffee and tea and would like to include your findings in a segment about coffee being used as an alterative fuel source.

    Thank you.

    Yours truly,
    Mindy Rosario
    “My Favorite Cup”
    (818) 207-0059

  3. Karina says:

    It’s really interesting i’m student of renewable energy engineering, and never think we can reuse some coffee to make biodiesel; i want to know more about this!

  4. Valentin Raspé says:


    I am a postgraduate Management student at University College London and currently I am working a subject where we have to produce a business plan for a sustainable business as a graded work. I have been researching this idea for quite a while now and want to base my business plan on this just as an exercise to learn something about setting up a sustainable business. Do you have any additional information on the machinery that is used for a larger scale trial of this? Or on the investment costs that would be incurred to set up a factory that processes this on a larger scale?

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