Coffee waste could help power future batteries

TAOYUAN, TAIWAN (REUTERS) - Millions of us drink coffee for its energy kick.

But researchers in Taiwan say it could one day help power our smartphones, laptops and even electric vehicles.

They've developed a method that transforms waste coffee grounds into a novel replacement for the graphite normally used in lithium ion batteries.

Liu Wei-jen, Associate Professor at Chungyuan University Department of Chemical Engineering, said: "The costs for natural and artificial graphite are both relatively high, so we are hoping to find a replacement substance. Taiwanese people love to drink coffee, so the amount of discarded coffee grounds is substantial. This is why I was wondering if there is the possibility to turn coffee grounds into a source material for lithium batteries. Because graphite and coffee grounds are both carbon, I wondered if there was the possibility to create a source material for the use in batteries through modification of the carbon."

As well as using a material normally destined for the bin, the team says there are other environmental benefits.

Tsai Hsing-yu, bachelor student at at Chungyuan University Department of Chemical Engineering, said: "Currently we are able to charge the battery 100 times, while batteries available on the market can be charged up to 500 times. But our advantage lies in that our source material is environmentally friendly. We take discarded coffee grounds from cafes and are able to prepare those for use in batteries by heating them up to 800 degrees Celsius, while the material in normal batteries has to be heated to 2,800 degrees Celsius; so that uses up more energy resources."

With more and more technology dependent on lithium ion batteries, demand for the graphite used in them has increased.

A battery for a large electric vehicle needs over 20kg of graphite.

More research is needed before coffee is a viable alternative.

But with the demand for electric vehicles growing, researchers here say it's time to wake up and smell the coffee.