Coffee Grounds Provide Alternative to Burning Wood 

Koffeco, a sustainably-minded science-based startup from Latvia, sees spent coffee grounds as a resource. The team transforms organic waste into new products, contributing to a circular economy.

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coffee crounds
Photo: Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Where do you dispose of used coffee grounds? The bin, the compost, the toilet? Perhaps you use them as a natural scrub in the shower. In any case, these approaches apply to coffee consumption in a personal environment. What happens to the steaming grounds piling up at coffee shops, offices, and petrol stations is another matter.

Seeing the potential in this readily available mass, Latvian startup Koffeco set off on a mission. The company aims to transform the spent coffee grounds into a usable material on an industrial scale. Its first product – fire starters – has already hit limited stores in Latvia. 

Why spent coffee grounds are a problem

According to Koffeco’s data, the planet’s population consumes 2.25 billion cups of coffee daily, which translates into 560 000 tonnes of waste. Currently, most of the spent coffee grounds make their way to landfills, where they decompose, releasing carbon dioxide and methane. Every tonne produces 340 cubic meters of methane, which is 84 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide. 

Koffeco’s team consists of entrepreneurs and scientists from the Institute of General Chemical Technology at Riga Technical University. Pairing business experience with scientific skills and expertise, the team has the inbuilt ability to validate and commercialize its research and discoveries. Together, they identified the potential to upcycle coffee grounds, thus contributing to the circular economy. 

It did not take long for Koffeco to find willing partners. The company collaborates with the Circle K petrol station chain, which provides coffee grounds, as well as a platform for selling their first product. The sustainability-oriented Kalve Coffee Roasters is another Latvia-based partner. 

Koffeco: an efficient alternative to wood 

Koffeco’s first product is fire starters or “coffee briquettes.” The grounds are milled, subjected to high temperatures, broken down, and compacted to produce them. As Koffeco has publicly shared, the result is a more efficient alternative to wood. When burned, wood releases all the carbon dioxide it has collected and stored over its lifespan of tens or even hundreds of years. Coffee fruit, however, takes much less time to mature and is harvested once a year. Moreover, coffee grounds release more heat and burn longer than most types of wood. 

Not planning to draw the line at just one product, the Koffeco team is laboring away to bring new solutions to the table. Ideas include disposable tableware and single-use coffee cups as an alternative to plastic, as well as charcoal and oils extracted from the grounds. Eventually, the company plans to expand its operations outside Latvia.  Koffeco shows that good ideas are everywhere if we keep an open mind and reframe the way we look at things so easily discarded as waste. By combining scientific and business thinking, it is a veritable example of the strength of crossdisciplinary partnerships.

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