Creating sustainable bio-products from spent coffee grounds

Katharina Kittelberger

Startup Stories

As a former luxury good, coffee has become an integral part of everyday life for many people. Whether filter coffee or espresso: for a large proportion of society, the caffeinated beverage is part of the morning ritual - just like throwing away the coffee grounds. Nevertheless, the grounds are not waste, but a valuable resource.

Founded in 2013, Cambridgeshire, UK-based startup Bio-Bean Ltd recycles used coffee grounds on an industrial scale to create Inficaf: a sustainable raw material for innovative product design and development. By turning this into thousands of tons of sustainable bioproducts each year, the sustainability startup is the world's largest recycler of used coffee grounds.

In an interview with 5-HT, George May, managing director at bio-bean, explains how exactly Inficaf helps meet sustainability requirements without harming the environment or individual businesses.

George May, managing director at the sustainability startup bio-bean

How would you explain your solution in three sentences to a professional colleague in a chemical company?

"bio-bean is the world's largest recycler of spent coffee grounds. We take ~8kT/year of spent grounds from UK businesses and transform them into sustainable bio-product solutions to reduce ‘waste’, save on CO2e emissions, save businesses money, and reduce reliance on virgin and scarce resources. Our product, Inficaf, is a sustainable materials solution for innovative product design and development. Consistent yet versatile, it'll help you meet sustainability demands without costing the earth."

What problem motivated you to start the company?

"The world drinks ~2.5 billion cups of coffee every day, creating 18 million tonnes of spent coffee grounds every year. In the UK alone, we drink 98 million cups of coffee every day, generating ~250,000T/year of spent grounds. Typically, those spent coffee grounds are sent to landfill or anaerobic digestion. But we’ve developed a better solution, upcycling the grounds into a range of sustainable bio-product solutions.

Inficaf is a sustainable raw material for innovative product design and development

The company was founded on the bedrock of environmental sustainability and reducing GHG emissions through innovating with spent coffee - a ubiquitous, under valorised material."

How do you convince a chemical company to set up a pilot project with you?

"The demand, both from business and consumers, for greater sustainability in terms of raw materials continues to grow exponentially. 
bio-bean offers an upcycled, truly sustainable material that is homogeneous, yet versatile in its potential applications. It’s cost competitive and its environmental credentials are outstanding. By diverting spent coffee grounds from other disposal methods and transforming them into Inficaf, bio-bean saves up to 1030 kg CO2e/T of recycled spent grounds. And we're able to supply industrial volumes of the material to a defined specification.

Inficaf is an effective alternative to virgin and petrochemical raw materials and mineral fillers, so it can help when it comes to meeting sustainability demands from both consumers and senior execs. Not to mention the benefits of its unique sustainability story.

By way of example, as the automotive industry looks to decarbonise, Inficaf is helping lead the way on sustainable innovation; not only in brake pads but a number of other applications including light weighting plastics and manufacture of automotive parts in foundries."

A variety of industries can use the upcycled spent coffee grounds Inficaf

Who are your current customer (groups) and who do you want your potential customers to be?

"We currently supply to a varied range of customers, both in the UK and overseas (predominantly in Europe). Our customer groups include product manufacturers, chemicals companies, cosmetics manufacturers, (bio)plastic compounders, the automotive friction sector and amongst others. The common denominator between them all is that they are of an industrial scale, looking to reduce their carbon footprint, drive sustainable raw material purchase and implement circular economy principles across their supply chain. We want to supply more businesses / industry sectors such as those we're already supplying into, and have plans to expand beyond Europe and into the US in due course."

Where do you see yourself in 3 years and how can 5-HT support you?

"In 3 years time we expect to have reached capacity at our UK plant and to be in the process of building a European plant to support our further growth and demand for Inficaf.

We envisage the European plant being in the Benelux / NW German region - an area which is hugely supportive of innovative, sustainable businesses, and therefore consider that 5-HT can potentially offer significant support with routes to market for Inficaf and introductions to potential collaborators in the materials space."

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