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The Coffee Panacea

The Coffee Panacea

| On 02, Oct 2019

Darrell Mann

Upon learning this month that caffeine makes perovskite photovoltaics more stable, thus enhancing their commercial potential in the next generation of solar-cells https://spectrum.ieee.org/energywise/green-tech/solar/java-takes-the-jitters-out-of-solar-cells, it made us wonder what other miracles coffee was capable of achieving. Turns out quite a lot.

Like rethinking the automotive industry. Forget electric vehicles. Spent coffee-grounds is the fuel of the future. Here was the pioneering solution:

Say hello to the Teesdale Conservation Volunteers (TCV) who, in 2010 designed and built the “car-ppuccino” – a 1988 Volkswagen Scirocco which was modified to run on used coffee grains. Martin Bacon, who runs TCV from a base near Barnard Castle, County Durham, drove the car from London to Birmingham and in doing so, broke the record for longest journey by a coffee-powered car.

No doubt still feeling the after-effects of the caffeine, Mr Bacon subsequently bought a 1974 Rover SD1 3500 for £250 and turned it into a caffeine fuelled “express-o” car. The car is powered using the gasification principle – which was used by hundred of thousands of vehicles during the Second World War, but despite being much cleaner than conventional engines, is considered to restrict speed.

Looks pretty slick to me.

But, anyway. If it’s possible to power a car, it must also be possible to power a house. Sure enough, someone, somewhere already solved your problem. Albeit, it is a rather small house:

Luxury tiny house builder New Frontier Tiny Homes has teamed up with Dunkin’ Donuts, actress Olivia Wilde and a sustainable biochemical company to produce the unique promotional project. The Home That Runs on Dunkin’ consists of a very well made but essentially standard tiny house that runs from a biofuel generator fueled by a coffee ground compound. It’s not just a case of pouring a cup of joe into the generator, sadly, otherwise, I’d’ve been at the front of the queue to buy one. Refining the coffee grounds into fuel is a complex process tackled by a firm called Blue Marble Biomaterials. In all, it takes around 170lb of used coffee grounds to produce just one gallon of fuel. Which, if I’ve done my sums right, means the occupant could just about live a steady-state life in which the energy from the used grounds heats the next cup of joe.

Okay, now let’s try zooming-in. What else does coffee help to stabilize? How about tea? Enter the ‘Dirty Chai’… green tea latte with a shot of expresso. Which, apparently, Starbucks will allow discerning customers to order these days. Not sure they will serve it up in a jam-jar though… even though, at the time of writing, this is still legal in the UK. (I am willing to start a petition to ban the practice, if anyone is interested.) It’s all part of a save-the-planet initiative I think. By my calculations, less jam would probably offer up more of a win-win.

Here, meanwhile, is what Gary Larson had to say on the caffeine-stabilisation-synergy story:

Speaking of Gary Larson, I’m reminded of one of my favourite of his cartoons, the ‘x off a duck’s back’ gem from 1985. Like coffee off a duck’s back… cappuccino off a duck’s back… decaff-soy-Americano off a duck’s back… you get the idea…

Which then leads on to the question of, in addition to ducks, what are the other one-plus-one-is-greater-than-two coffee synergies?

For a while, I had high hopes for the nuclear industry…

But then my first experimental results weren’t that promising…

Back to the drawing board, I guess…

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