Colombia is definitely one of the first countries that come to mind when thinking bout coffee. Brewed coffee is a staple in the diets of people all over the world, providing a high caffeine fuel to propel drinkers into their workday. But what about using coffee as vehicle fuel? That’s exactly what Colombian coffee growers are researching, working to bring added revenues to the coffee value chain with the production of coffee-derived ethanol biofuel.
In the coffee production process, a waste byproduct is created when washing the beans called “mucilage.” Traditionally, Colombian coffee growers have allowed mucilage waste to enter the country’s river systems, but this has led to contamination issues. It also hurts the growers who are required to pay fines for dumping mucilage into the rivers. As a means by which to reduce this pollution while also adding profit to the coffee growers’ operations, ethanol is being produced from mucilage waste.
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Currently, tests are utilizing a micro-plant, which is a scaled-down version of a traditional ethanol plant. The test plant produces 800 to 1,000 liters of ethanol per day from the mucilage waste collected from 450 square meters of coffee growing land.
The byproduct of the mucilage-to-ethanol conversion process can also be turned into fertilizer, thus reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. Essentially, coffee plantations in Colombia may have discovered a way to drastically improve their environmental footprint while adding value to their operations. These are the kinds of small steps that can completely change an entire sector for the better.