Used Coffee Grounds and Stale Muffins: The Secret of Our Next Biofuel?

Starbucks funds research to turn its food waste into bio-based fuel.
Could this biorefinery be the answer to turning waste into fuel? Starbucks is banking on it. (Photo: The American Chemical Society)
Aug 25, 2012· 1 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

At the anual meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) this week, Starbucks announced it’s donating its used coffee grounds and old pastries to a “biorefinery.” The company hopes to discover how to change its food waste into a key ingredient used for making every day products.

The ACS site reports Starbucks―specifically Starbucks Hong Kong―will also provide funding to the Hong Kong-based biorefinery led by Carol S.K. Lin, Ph.D. In collaboration with the environmental nonprofit, The Climate Group, Dr. Lin was inspired to devise a transformative process for food waste that might provide an alternative to biofuels like corn. The ACS site explains:

"Using corn and other food crops for bio-based fuels and other products may not be sustainable in the long-run. Concerns exist that this approach may increase food prices and contribute to food shortages in some areas of the world. Using waste food as the raw material in a biorefinery certainly would be an attractive alternative."

MORE: Is Starbucks as Green as Its Logo?

Dr. Lin explained, “Our new process addresses the food waste problem by turning Starbucks’ trash into treasure — detergent ingredients and bio-plastics that can be incorporated into other useful products. The strategy reduces the environmental burden of food waste, produces a potential income from this waste and is a sustainable solution.”

GreenIdeal reports that if Starbucks and its biorefinery are successful, it will be a landmark moment for the planet. After all, Americans alone throw out $165 billion worth of food every year. Less trash would mean less incineration, which would translate into less pollutants. And bio-plastics could replace traditional plastics, which use petroleum, a nonrenewable fossil fuel.

Are there other alternative sources for fuel that you'd like to see studied?