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Coffee: Powering People... Fueling Cars?

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People like to joke about their “morning fuel” as they sip a foam-topped latte or double-shot of espresso, but what if we really could use coffee as fuel for other things, like our cars?

Imagine it: After you finish your AM cup of Joe (or three), instead of knocking the used coffee grounds into the wastebasket or compost heap, you dump them into the fuel tank of your car, press a button... and then zoom away using coffee fuel, leaving a trail of exhaust that smells faintly of roasted caramel, steamed milk and Sunday morning.

This scenario might be closer than you think – because the Coffee Car exists. Not only that, but the Coffee Car has set a Guinness World Record for the fastest vehicle to “run on gas from organic waste,” befitting of a car that runs on a dopamine-enhancing stimulator. The Coffee Car hits over 75 miles per hour and averages 66.5 miles per hour – plenty speedy even for the most souped-up coffee drinker around.

Invented by British engineer Martin Bacon and a team of volunteers for the BBC television show Bang Goes the Theory, the original Coffee Car was actually a Volkswagen Scirocco that was gutted and then fitted with a custom-built “gasifier.” This gasifier uses heat to convert the used coffee grounds into clean energy by breaking down the solids into hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This modified gas is then cooled, cleaned and sent through a special adapted combustion engine that powers the car.

While the first version of the vehicle, the Coffee Car Mark 1, could travel for extended periods of time, it couldn’t go very fast. To get the Coffee Car up to the high speeds needed to win the Guinness World Record, further modifications were necessary, and this time Bacon and his team used a Rover SD1, to accommodate a bigger, faster engine – and the Coffee Car Mark 2 was born.

The Coffee Car Mark 2’s fast speed blew away every other vehicle powered by organic waste, clocking in at 77.5 miles per hour (the previous record was only 47.7 miles per hour). Although the speed is noteworthy, running cars on trash is nothing new. In the past, vehicles have been fueled by sawdust, cow manure or wood chips, and who can forget Doc Brown’s Delorean time machine that ran on a Mr. Fusion household garbage converter?

From the Organic Authority Files

Okay, perhaps that last one isn’t real – but cars that can use gasoline converted from organic waste are a new reality. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to shop for a coffee-powered car at your local auto dealer anytime soon; this custom-built model is an anomaly in a world of petroleum-powered vehicles.

However the Coffee Car shows that alternative fuels could be a daily reality, and maybe one day we will power our cars with trash. The globe’s dependence on fossil fuels does not have to run so deep, and maybe one day we will be able to turn all of our waste products into energy.


image: nick@

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