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Organic waste-powered 'Coffee Car' breaks speed record


September 30, 2011

The Coffee car averaged 65 mph during its world record attempt earlier this month

The Coffee car averaged 65 mph during its world record attempt earlier this month

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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:

About the Author
Jan Belezina Formerly in charge of Engadget Poland, Jan Belezina's long time fascination with the advance of new technology has led him to become Gizmag's eyes and ears in Eastern Europe. All articles by Jan Belezina

Whatever biomass is used, it would be a better use of said mass than just dumping in a landfill!

Serafina Tikklya

There will come a day when social strata will determine whether your vehicle (and house) runs on clean waste or just greasy garbage (with greasy garbage being the more efficient, but smellier, of the two).

Next up: odor-eliminating additives and filters...yet another use for carbon.

Just as we can make our own bio-desil, the grease from fastfood stores was a waste product that had to be hauled away, now that people want it to make bio-desil, some places are now charging for it, instead of paying to haul it away. Great for the store, but the cost of bio-desil just went up. As more people try to reclaim these waste products, they will no longer be free for the asking. As the competition grows the cost will rise, and choke of the supply. I can see wastehauling contracts with starbucks or cop a joe, with a stop at Micky D\'s for the grease, PAYING at each stop to haul away their waste. While it will be greener, it will not be cost effective for long. kellory

This tech was used in Europe in WWII it led to massive deforestation.

I hope they use the resulting charcoal for something useful.


Why bother with the car, all that coffee and they could have just run 65mph.

Facebook User

And they didn\'t have the windows up or any aerodynamic cover on the burner? at the back, plus the wheels looked dodgy... so it could go much faster.... but this seems to be inefficient technology as it converts biomass to gas through burning and then gas extraction to a conventional gas converted combustion engine... unless I got the idea wrong... lot of fun for some blokes in a shed. Love the shed developed technology.

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