The popularity of coffee around the world has never been higher, and as such coffee farming in recent years has also grown into a huge industry. The process of preparing coffee beans uses an incredible amount of water, which is typically just discarded as waste once it’s been used. The University of Surrey has found an ingenious way of not only cleaning the water to reduce the environmental impact, but also generating electricity in the process.
How it works
The project team at the university have developed a fuel cell that uses microbes to eat the waste matter in the contaminated water, which cleans out the pollutants, and in the process produces a small amount of electricity. While this isn’t going to generate a huge amount of power, so it won’t be something that can be harnessed as a renewable energy source, it can still be enough to help keep down costs for the farmers as well as being beneficial for the environment.
The fuel cells that the lab have developed are around the same size as a soft drink can, and cost in the region of £300-£500. However, they have also produced cheaper versions using ceramics and plastic bottles which only cost around £2 to make, so it doesn’t look like costs would prevent it from being practical for farmers. The fuel cells are not yet in production, however the team are awaiting responses from funding agencies with the hopes of building a prototype in the field in Columbia.
Other eco-friendly options
Coffee farmers aren’t the only ones who can do their part to minimise the ecological impact associated with the coffee industry, everyone can get involved in one way or another.
Reusable cups are a great way to help lower your carbon footprint, as the nature of disposable cups makes them particularly difficult to recycle. Most coffee shops will now offer a discount to customers bringing their own cups, so make sure you keep one in your bag for caffeine emergencies!
There are also different ways of recycling coffee grounds that both consumers and coffee businesses can get involved in. There are several programmes around the country that can help coffee shops to ethically dispose of the used grounds, which can be used for things like bio fuel and animal feed. You can recycle your coffee at home as well, using it to scrub pots and pans, or as compost to make fertiliser for your garden.
Check out our blog here on coffee ground here for more information on how to use coffee grounds after use.
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