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Aug 202012
 

From Yale Environment 360 and Green Right Now Reports

A team of scientists is working with the Starbucks coffee chain to develop a bio-refinery process that would convert the company’s discarded coffee grounds and day-old bakery goods into a key ingredient for making plastics and other products.

Lin's biorefinery in Hong Kong (Photo: Carol S.K. Lin)

The process, described at a meeting of the American Chemical Society this week, builds on existing technology that converts corn, sugar cane, and other plant-based products into the ingredients for biofuels and other consumer products.

According to researchers, the process involves blending the bakery waste with a mixture of fungi that breaks down carbohydrates in the food into simple sugars. They are ultimately converted into succinic acid, a material that can be used to make a range of products, including plastics, detergents, and medicines. While most experts say using crops for such purposes would not be sustainable, targeting food waste is an attractive alternative, said Carol S. K. Lin, of the City University of Hong Kong, who was leader of the research team.

The ACS elaborated in a statement on the potential impact of Lin’s program for reusing food waste and coffee grounds:

In addition to providing a sustainable source of succinic acid, the new technology could have numerous environmental benefits, Lin explained. For example, Starbucks Hong Kong alone produces nearly 5,000 tons of used grounds and unconsumed waste bakery items every year. Currently, this waste is incinerated, composted or disposed of in landfills. Lin’s process could convert these piles of foul-smelling waste into useful products, getting trash off the land. By avoiding incineration, fewer pollutants enter the atmosphere. In addition, the carbon dioxide that is produced is reused during the biorefining process. Because succinic acid and its products (such as bio-plastics) are made using bakery waste as a renewable feedstock, they are sustainable alternatives to products (such as regular plastics) that are now made with petroleum, a fossil fuel that is nonrenewable.

Starbucks Hong Kong provided initial funding for the project.