Coffee For Energy Gets A New Twist

What does a coffee roasting facility have in common with a future Martian base or space station? They both produce a complex mix of bio-based waste, and require a lot of energy to operate. Finding ways to utilize this type of waste for energy production is the focus of a research project recently announced by the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota. The center is developing a gasification technology that will generate power from the waste produced by the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters plant in Waterbury, Vt.

The project is a collaboration between EERC and Wynntryst, an energy company based in South Burlington, just up the road from Waterbury. According to EERC’s Deputy Associate Director for Research Chris Zygarlicke, the pilot project is an extension of work that the EERC has already performed for NASA, exploring the conversion of waste from a space station and future Martian and lunar bases into heat and power.

coffee

image via Wikipedia

The Green Mountain plant’s waste stream includes coffee residues, plastic packaging, paper, cloth or burlap, and plastic cups. The first phase of the project will focus on determining the quality of synthetic gas, or syngas, that gan be produced using EERC’s advanced gasifier technology. The facility will then generate electricity from the syngas using either an internal combustion engine or a fuel cell. The results from the pilot project will guide the team in proposing a full-scale commercial demonstration system for installation at various Green Mountain sites.

“Over the years, the EERC has developed and tested numerous small gasifier systems like this on a variety of biomass feedstocks,” Zygarlicke said in a statement. “The EERC system has already produced power by gasifying forest residues, railroad tie chips, turkey litter, and other biomass feedstocks and burning the produced syngas in an on-site engine generator. The coffee industry residues will be similarly tested.”

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).