Coffee beans to biofuels

A multi-million rand coffee-waste-to-biofuels plant is being built by South African recycling company Verda Waste. Based in Johannesburg, the plant is scheduled to be up and running by mid-2019.

The industrial plant aims to recycle 17 million kilograms/year of waste coffee grounds into 1.8 million litres/year of biodiesel and 4.5 million kilograms/year of biomass pellets and fire logs, explains Verda Waste MD Fischer Khambule.

The plan is for the plant to recycle about 70 000 tons of coffee waste that would have otherwise ended up on landfills over the next five years. Also saving about 476 000 tons in carbon emissions through offsetting conventional diesel use.

“Not only is this plant good for the environment, jobs for the youth and more than100 small business opportunities will be created,” says Khambule, explaining that at first, many of these jobs will be small business opportunities in the area of logistics – collecting coffee waste from coffee shops and restaurants in a particular area, and getting paid per ton, to bring the waste to facility.

Khambule says that Verda Waste has agreements with major listed franchise corporations, to collect coffee waste from their restaurants and manufacturing facilities, ensuring a consistently reliable source of spent coffee grinds. Verda is also negotiating off-take agreements with various end users for the biofuel that will be produced.

Khambule explains that about 60% – 70% of the machinery for the plant is imported, with the remaining portion, for example the neutralising tank and methanol tower body, being locally developed. Rather than the conventional waste to fuel process, Verda has adopted an innovative in-situ process, which allows for a more direct reaction.

Part of the funding for the plant has been raised personally by the directors of the company, which has also more recently tapped into funding available from the Industrial Development Corporation, the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Trade and Industry.

Coffee is one of the most highly consumed beverages in the world, with over nine-million tons/y of coffee beans produced. There are also large amounts of waste generated in the coffee industry, which could be put to much better use.

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