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Powering London buses with coffee waste: How Shell’s partnership may shape future energy

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History was made in London on Monday, November 20, when Shell partnered the Founder/Vice Chairman of Bio-bean, Arthur Kay, to industrialise the process of turning coffee waste grounds into advanced biofuels and biochemical, which could be used as alternative source of fuel to power buses. Kay spoke with our London correspondent, Tunde Oyedoyin, about this concept.

How relevant is the project to a country like Nigeria, where Shell has been operating for many decades?
WE’RE launching bio-bean buses by using biodiesel to power 100 of London buses. Though this is currently used only in London, in future we hope to bring it to a country like Nigeria, where they drink about 275 million cups of coffee a year.

It’s a huge amount of coffee drunk in Nigeria, so the potential to apply a similar solution in Nigeria is massive.

Naturally, what we try to do with this project is to do it here in London, but we’re thinking about applying the same concept in far different places and locations.

What sort of energy challenges would this address?
Bio-beans will address two key problems, the first is a waste problem, because coffee drinking creates a lot of coffee grounds and in the UK alone we drink tens of tons of millions of coffee and that produces a lot of waste bags. What bio beans does is that we work with a lot of waste management companies and coffee factories to collect coffee grounds and bring them into our factory thereby save a lot of carbon dioxide being sent to landfills.

The second thing is that instead of leaving them out there, we then turn the coffee grounds into a range of energy products such as pellets. So, what we’re launching today is to showcase how the alternative source of energy we created by diesel extracted from the oils of these coffee grounds can be used to power London buses. In essence, there are two elements to this event; one is saving waste and the second is displacing conventional fuel, replacing it with renewal energy sources.

Is the technology limited to countries like the UK?
No, it is not. The bio bean project is not solely about coffee or biodiesel; it is a broader insight into the context that there’s no such thing as waste or rather resources in the wrong places.

So, it is to get us to think of our waste and energy process as being connected. What that does is that it helps us come up with some great and bright energy ideas to solve them. Even if Nigeria is not a cold climate like the UK, they still drink a lot of coffee –– 275 m cups a year, this is not a small amount. So, there’s still an opportunity for a company like Bio bean to one day expand to Nigeria.

What’s the quantity of coffee consumption in the UK?
We drink tons and tons, and there’s a lot of waste from that.

How much energy is that converted into in terms of powering buses?
In London, specifically, it’s about 200,000 tons of coffee being drunk. That’s enough to power roughly one third of buses on the London network if we’re able to get our hands on every single cup dumped as waste. In essence, what we’re launching is a smaller demonstration –– working with the London fleet –– of the potential of this idea.

What number of buses would this project take off with?
We’re currently producing about 6000 litres, that’s been blended with a lot of fats and oil. But it’s difficult to give a specific number of buses this 6000litres can power for the entire year.

How soon will projects to identify entrepreneurs like Arthur take place in Nigeria?
Shell has been very supportive to nurture creative ideas and I understand that in Nigeria as well, Shell is also working to identify entrepreneurs like me. I know in Nigeria, just as in the UK, there is a Shell Live Wire programme, which supports entrepreneurs and start-ups to come up with bright energy ideas in addition to helping them to run successful businesses. In terms of relevance to Nigeria, it is using that support that Shell provides and its networks in bringing this idea across.

How cost effective is it?
Our main focus is on saving money for the producers of the waste coffee bags, rather than sending it to land fills. The thinking behind it is that to be environmentally friendly doesn’t have to be that costly.

How sustainable is it?
If we specifically look at this bio beans project in terms of bus routes; if you take mineral diesel and compare it to second generation diesel, you have an 80 to 85 per cent savings and that’s the figure from the recent Transport for London (TFL) of June 2015.

How clean is it?
It’s pretty significant based on the TFL report.
Considering that Nigeria has more buses by virtue of a more population than UK, does the amount of pollution being emitted make the country an attractive destination?

Firstly, what we’re doing is to prove the concept of bio beans being a cleaner concept, a new technology and a new way of thinking about waste and also demonstrating it in the market by working with Shell and our partners. Once we’ve proved it here we’ll be glad to expand it outside the UK and Nigeria will be a great place to go.

How soon can this be in Nigeria?
If we can be in Nigeria in three years from now, that’ll be very good. It’s taken us a long time to bring the idea into reality. We have launched our pellets and as I have said, we’re launching our – third – bio bean product this year; so, in future we’ll not just be looking into producing new products, but also other markets.


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