Organic waste-powered 'Coffee Car' breaks speed record
By Jan Belezina
September 30, 2011
Martin Bacon and his team of Teesdale Conservation Vounteers from Durham, England, must have drank copious amounts of coffee when developing this project. It was definitely a sacrifice worth making though. Their aptly named Coffee Car rose to the challenge and broke the world land speed record for cars powered by organic waste earlier this month.
The record the coffee-powered wagon was up against had been set earlier this year by a group of Americans called "Beaver Energy", who conjured up a vehicle powered by wood pellets. The 47mph achieved by their Beaver XR7 proved well within the Coffee Car's capacity.
The vehicle averaged 66.5 mph over two runs and won its place in the Guinness book of World Records. But how exactly did this ingenious group of Brits manage to fit an old Rover SD1 with innards that allow it to run on nothing more than coffee grounds salvaged from local shops?
It's all down to biomass gasification or, to be more specific, thanks to the combustion of the resulting gas mixture called syngas (or synthetic gas). This combination of hydrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane is achieved as biomass is treated with a controlled amount of oxygen or steam at very high temperatures.
Gasification is hardly a new trick. It's been around since the early 1800s and it played a vital role in the industrial revolution. However, a distinction should be made between fossil fuel and biomass gasification. The former is currently used on industrial scale to produce electricity, and - unsurprisingly - it has little in common with renewable energy. The latter is a source of renewable energy and is seen by some as a viable alternative to conventional fuel.
Is using coffee grounds as biomass input the way forward? Similar though the SD1 may be to a certain DeLorean, we can hardly see coffee as the fuel of the future, but the potential of using coffee waste as a biofuel source remains the subject of serious investigation.
One thing is for certain, this interesting experiment proves Mr Bacon right. Not only is powering cars with renewable energy possible, but it is achievable with technologies that have been around for ages. It turns out that all we need is determination, ingenuity and hectolitres of coffee.
The Coffee Car video below takes us through the record breaking runs:
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