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Coffee-Powered Car Breaks World Record 174

Posted by samzenpus
from the sugar-and-cream-optional dept.
MrSeb writes "A bunch of tea-drinking northern Brits have set a new land speed record for a gasification-powered vehicle, fueled only by coffee beans. The car is called The Coffee Car, and it was created by the Teesdale Conservation Volunteers of Durham, England. The previous gasification-powered speed record — held by some Americans called 'Beaver Energy' — was a mere 47mph, fueled by wood pellets. The Coffee Car averaged no less than 66.5mph and was granted a Guinness World Record in return. Gasification is a process in which any organic fuel is turned into 'syngas,' a mixture of carbon dioxide/monoxide, hydrogen, and methane which can be used in conventional internal combustion engines. The Coffee Car was created with the sole intention of proving that renewable/green energy sources can power cars — and it looks like it succeeded!"

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Coffee-Powered Car Breaks World Record

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  • Works with coal too (Score:2, Interesting)

    by finarfinjge (612748)
    Note that this gasification technology would work with coal too.

    There's a lot more and cheaper coal than "renewable / green" sources (previously called "food").

    Just sayin.
    • by jandrese (485)
      And as an added bonus, it's still a fossil fuel then, so it adds to the net CO2 in the atmosphere!
      • Its Green because in theory when you regrow the plants they will absorb the CO2 that was emitted.

        However Humans being as we are, we will probably cut down forests to make room for more of these plants and still end up with a net gain in CO2 in the atmosphere.

        If there was a good easy solution we would have come up with it now. The problem is every energy source you will have to make some sort of trade off. The key is trying to at least diversify our energy sources so we are dividing our trade-offs and not

        • by jackbird (721605)

          Even if you cut down a forest, plant-based fuels are still carbon neutral, since a more or less fixed amount of carbon is available at the surface/in the atmosphere within this geological period. Fossil fuels add carbon to the entire system by releasing carbon formerly trapped deep in rock formations.

          • "Even if you cut down a forest, ..."
            Or it will simply become a desert ... oops ...
            You don't want to cut down a whole forest.

          • Of course prior to becoming sequestered in said rock formations, the CO2 was part of the atmosphere. Must be something in the geological record of the massive runaway global warming that had to have occured before CO2 became coal and oil. Those conglomerate rocks couldn't have come from continental glaciers when CO2 was 10 times higher than today. Or would that too be "consistent with climate models"?
            • by jackbird (721605) on Monday September 26, 2011 @03:10PM (#37518822)

              Um, I think there is, although you might be making some obscure point I don't understand because I don't spend all day on anti AGW sites:

              Climate during the Carboniferous Period

              from the fine article:

              Average global temperatures in the Early Carboniferous Period were hot- approximately 20 C (68 F). However, cooling during the Middle Carboniferous reduced average global temperatures to about 12 C (54 F). As shown on the chart below, this is comparable to the average global temperature on Earth today!

              Similarly, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Early Carboniferous Period were approximately 1500 ppm (parts per million), but by the Middle Carboniferous had declined to about 350 ppm -- comparable to average CO2 concentrations today!

                Earth's atmosphere today contains about 380 ppm CO2 (0.038%). Compared to former geologic times, our present atmosphere, like the Late Carboniferous atmosphere, is CO2- impoverished! In the last 600 million years of Earth's history only the Carboniferous Period and our present age, the Quaternary Period, have witnessed CO2 levels less than 400 ppm.

              If you're talking about something else I'd sincerely be interested in reading about it.

              • by decoy256 (1335427)

                Here is the chart that shows CO2 levels compared to global temps: http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/PageMill_Images/image277.gif [geocraft.com]

                You'll notice that during the Ordovician period, CO2 was well over 4000ppm, and sometimes upwards of 5000ppm, yet the temperatures near the end of that period were right at modern levels.

                Also, if you'll carefully look at the CO2 levels vs. the temps during the Carboniferous period, CO2 had been precipitously dropping for ~50 million years, bottoming out at around 350 ppm... but loo

                • by MightyYar (622222)

                  You'll notice that during the Ordovician period, CO2 was well over 4000ppm, and sometimes upwards of 5000ppm, yet the temperatures near the end of that period were right at modern levels.

                  Correlation != Causation

                  That's why the people studying the climate have to build complicated models. CO2 is just one of the many inputs to those models. Stripping away just the CO2 input and trying to devine its effect on the environment through correlation alone would be like (car analogy coming...) monitoring only spark plug current and trying to correlate that with tire temperature.

                  there is absolutely no proof that such would endanger life on Earth in any way,

                  Probably not, but humans are awful at change. If people's property goes away or becomes suddenly unproductive or uninhabitab

                  • by decoy256 (1335427)

                    Correlation != Causation

                    Agreed, however I never argued the opposite... in fact, the entire point of my post was to show that we don't even have correlation on CO2 vs. Temperature, let alone causation. All those same "many inputs" you mentioned that affected the Paleozoic and Mesozoic climate are affecting us today and it is grossly premature to suggest that the infinitesimal human contribution to atmospheric CO2 causes the climate of our planet to change in the slightest.

                    • by MightyYar (622222)

                      Agreed, however I never argued the opposite... in fact, the entire point of my post was to show that we don't even have correlation on CO2 vs. Temperature, let alone causation

                      Okay then, causation != correlation.

                      You do not need correlation to have causation. That's the whole point of building the models.

                      All those same "many inputs" you mentioned that affected the Paleozoic and Mesozoic climate are affecting us today and it is grossly premature to suggest that the infinitesimal human contribution to atmospheric CO2 causes the climate of our planet to change in the slightest.

                      Ten or fifteen years ago, I would have straight-up agreed with you. There was way too much error in the models, with some of them almost as likely to predict cooling as warming. It's not premature anymore - the models have improved, and AFAIK, there is not a model in existence which comes to a contrary conclusion. Surely if the human contribution were as infinitesimal as you claim

                • Oh look another "informed skeptic."

                  CO2/temperature lag:

                  http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/04/the-lag-between-temp-and-co2/ [realclimate.org]

                  Some articles on periods with unusual CO2/temperature differences:

                  http://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-higher-in-past.htm [skepticalscience.com]
                  http://www.skepticalscience.com/CO2-has-been-higher-in-the-past.html [skepticalscience.com]

                  • by decoy256 (1335427)

                    The condescending attitude does not advance your cause any.

                    I am familiar with the apologist explanations for these incongruities, but find their explanations lacking. First, it does not address periods of lowering CO2 levels and rising temperatures (see, for example, the entire Cretaceous period).

                    Additionally, let us take into account that CO2 only partially contributes to global temperatures, one would still think that when CO2 levels plummet from 4000 ppm in the mid-Devonian to just ~350 ppm in the early

            • by morgauxo (974071)
              Someone else already explained, yes it was and things were hot!

              Besides all that though, I wonder how much of the CO2 which is naturally in the atmosphere/surface wasn't there way back when the coal and oil carbon were. Released by volcanoes from even deeper in the Earth perhaps?
            • by Genda (560240)

              There are records. Check into the massive deposits of limestone all over the planet. This was the sequestering of CO2 by zooplankton that grew shells, died, became chalk and then were compressed and heating over time into limestone and marble. Think Carbonates. That's were a bunch of the CO2 went.

              Today we have a huge opportunity to use carbon for all kinds of interesting purposes. We also have some very promising technologies to sequester it from the atmosphere. A U.S. university wants to be able to create

          • So, bring back steam cars, just this time instead of coal they would be powered by wood.

            • by cayenne8 (626475)

              So, bring back steam cars, just this time instead of coal they would be powered by wood.

              Wouldn't work...unless EVERYONE was mandated to only use these.

              This 'record setting' vehicle...set the record with ONLY an avg speed of about 62mph??!?

              You trying driving only 62mph on any roads around where I've lived and you will get mowed down. Hell, that's the speeds you see through neighborhoods with children in them....

              But seriously...that is not very quick...most people on main artieries through the cities I've

              • 62mph is almost 100km/h. In my country the maximum speed limit on a highway is 130, some are 100, most inter-city roads are 90 and inside the city/town/village it is 50. Some people go 10km/h over the limit but more than that and you risk getting your photo taken or getting stopped by the police and having to pay a fine.

                Still, steam cars in the 1910s managed to get 100km/h, maybe one designed with modern tools and materials in mind could go faster? Steam is good that it can use anything that burns hot enoug

                • The land speed record was held by a steam car until 1909, the record was just over 200km/h (almost 130 mph). Something that few people know however is the date that the first electric car held the land speed record. 1898. That is not a typo, in fact an electric car established the first land speed record. As far as the article is concerned... all we need now is to increase world coffee production by several billion percent and all our energy worries will be gone. What was it they were trying to prove agai
              • by sjames (1099)

                The back can be fitted with a bulldozer blade with spikes attached. The vehicle will be partially propelled by the force of idiots on cellphones colliding with it. If you drop the remains off at the recycler, driving the car might yield a net profit.

              • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

                This 'record setting' vehicle...set the record with ONLY an avg speed of about 62mph??!?

                An average speed of 62mph is extremely fast. People drive for weeks without hitting 60mph if they live in the city. You could hit bursts of 200mph and still have an average speed of 62mph. I know that you know what "average" means, Cayenne8.

                and if you try going even the posted limit, you'll get hit badly.

                Are you really saying that where you live if you drive the posted limit that other drivers are going to ram your ca

                • by MightyYar (622222)

                  Are you really saying that where you live if you drive the posted limit that other drivers are going to ram your car?

                  Depending on where you are and what time of day it is, driving at the speed limit in the US can be extremely dangerous. It might not feel dangerous to the person going that speed, but there is a huge chain reaction of sudden stops and aggressive lane changes going on behind them.

                  If you think about it, the speed limit doesn't matter at all - only the average speed of the drivers. Being a standard deviation or so outside of the mean is probably a problem either way. There's something called "traffic waves" an

                  • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

                    I agree with your sentiment otherwise, though I would point out that a max speed of 62mph indicates a very underpowered vehicle, and most people would probably not buy such a beast. Even city drivers need some power off of the line or they will get swamped by traffic and cut off at every light.

                    I can't imagine any city driver needed to get to 65mph coming off a stop light.

                    For city drivers, a top speed of 65mph would be no problem, especially if it could accelerate to 65 in 2.5 seconds. Fast acceleration is

                    • by MightyYar (622222)

                      I can't imagine any city driver needed to get to 65mph coming off a stop light.

                      LOL, sorry I didn't make myself clear.

                      A car that can only get up to 65MPH probably is very slow getting to even 35MPH.

                      Fast acceleration is more important for passing and keeping up with traffic than a high top speed.

                      Exactly.

                      We had a national speed limit of 55mph for 20 years, and if memory serves, the world did not come to an end.

                      Did average speeds change much? I feel like I still set cruise control around 70-74MPH, even with the 65MPH speed limits - same as I did at 55MPH (though then I had to tail someone or risk getting a ticket). This study [slashdot.org] is the one that often gets cited - an oldie but goodie. But then this site [saferoads.org] lists a bunch of stats to the contrary - so I dunno. All I know is that I'm a lot happier a

                    • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

                      I feel like I still set cruise control around 70-74MPH

                      Me too, but apparently enough of the people who care about their licenses (like truck drivers) drove 55 that the consumption of fuel went down significantly.

                      Ultimately, they probably need to automate them - cars moving at different speeds is inherently a bad system.

                      When you've got a powerful political force intent on convincing people that any regulation is bad, I doubt anything like that's gonna happen.

                      But I sure would love to be able to hook up to an I

                    • by MightyYar (622222)

                      When you've got a powerful political force intent on convincing people that any regulation is bad, I doubt anything like that's gonna happen.

                      People will completely ignore the politicians and their ideological madness if DOT saves them 30 seconds on their commute :)

      • Here on the East Coast we have WAY too many ugly, tree covered mountains that are practically completely filled with this valuable inexpensive resource.
    • by gmuslera (3436) *
      Not sure how much coffee qualifies as food (even if i can't live without it) compared with i.e. corn. But regarding coal, or even oil, i remember in Pohl's Heechee saga where people in that future used them as food source in the CHON [wikipedia.org] factories.
      • I suppose we could cut down some rainforest if we don't want to use food. That would still be green wouldn't it?
    • by morgauxo (974071) on Monday September 26, 2011 @04:16PM (#37519574)
      It also works with cellulose (the parts of the plant you don't eat). No strip mining, no tailings, no net CO2 (assuming you keep growing the plant, you are just cycling the CO2).

      Why would one want to use dirty old coal?
      • by MightyYar (622222)

        It also works with cellulose

        If cellulose ever became valuable, farmers would grow switchgrass where food formerly was grown - in general, if you have to farm it, it is still competing with food and raising the price of food.

        Why would one want to use dirty old coal?

        Only economic reasons. It's hard to beat "dig rock out of otherwise fallow ground" for cost.

      • by blindseer (891256)

        It also works with cellulose (the parts of the plant you don't eat). No strip mining, no tailings, no net CO2 (assuming you keep growing the plant, you are just cycling the CO2).

        You mean that same cellulose left in the fields by farmers to control erosion, reduce fertilizer costs, and control weeds?

        Does anyone else see a problem with this logic?

        Considering that most synthetic fertilizer uses natural gas as feedstock and/or fuel would it not be simpler and more energy efficient to leave the cellulose in the fields and burn the natural gas in our cars? I've seen what corn ethanol has done to food and fuel prices. I don't want to live through what doubling down on that will do to my

    • Yes but coal pollutes more, so the whole concept of being green is gone with that remark.

  • "Gasification" (Score:4, Informative)

    by jawtheshark (198669) * <<slashdot> <at> <jawtheshark.com>> on Monday September 26, 2011 @02:03PM (#37517970) Homepage Journal

    Gasification is a process in which any organic fuel is turned into 'syngas,' a mixture of carbon dioxide/monoxide, hydrogen, and methane which can be used in conventional internal combustion engines

    Just for those who don't know. This was very popular during and after WW-II in Germany as gas supplies were next to non-existent. In these gasification systems, you could burn pretty much anything combustible. Wood was popular a popular choice. It's a very old technology.

    Not 100% related, but the original Diesel engine, ran on peanut oil. Fossil fuels only got used later in Diesel technology.

    • Myth (Score:3, Informative)

      Diesel designed his engine around coal dust.

      Someone else ran it on peanut oil for exhibition in Paris.

      • Diesel designed his engine around coal dust.

        That's incorrect. From the wikipedia article [wikipedia.org]:

        "It is often reported that Diesel designed his engine to run on peanut oil. Diesel stated in his published papers, "at the Paris Exhibition in 1900 (Exposition Universelle) there was shown by the Otto Company a small diesel engine, which, at the request of the French Government ran on Arachide (earth-nut or pea-nut) oil (see biodiesel), and worked so smoothly that only a few people were aware of it. The engine was constructed for using mineral oil, and was then w

        • http://www.pistonheads.com/doc.asp?c=52&i=9773 [pistonheads.com]
          The first experimental engine was built in 1893 and used high pressure air to blast the coal dust into the combustion chamber. While the prototype blew its cylinder head off but, four years later, Diesel produced a reasonably reliable engine. His ideas for an engine where the combustion would be carried out within the cylinder were published in 1893, one year after he applied for his first patent.

          Further developments using coal dust as fuel failed. A compres

    • It has also been used in South Africa. Also in both Germany and South Africa coal was actually the preferred feedstock and they would then take the process one step further creating liquid hydrocarbons like diesel, avgas, and gasoline. To complete the process to liquid you need the Fischer-Tropsch Process [wikipedia.org]. You are correct in that this is old technology the Fischer-Tropshc process was first developed in Germany in the 1920 and creating charcoal has been around for a couple thousand years.
    • Here is the link to the WWII use of the technology. I was going to post the info, but you beat me to it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wood_gas [wikipedia.org]

    • This was very popular during and after WW-II in Germany as gas supplies were next to non-existent. In these gasification systems, you could burn pretty much anything combustible. Wood was popular a popular choice. It's a very old technology.

      You are correct... see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wood_gas_generator#History [wikipedia.org]. Wood gas was also used to fuel vehicles in WWII Japan.

      "The Coffee Car was created with the sole intention of proving that renewable/green energy sources can power cars — and it looks l

  • by tangelogee (1486597) on Monday September 26, 2011 @02:04PM (#37517978)

    Mr. Fusion!

  • Maybe that using coffee beans or fries oil is truly green to use for some proof of concept cars like that, but imagine the whole planet running its cars with coffee beans or wood pellets. How long before coffee gets sold at 500$ per kilo, or wood being sold 50000$ for a dead tree? Using pesticides and faster growing stuff? Using energy at such large scale as we use dead dinosaurs as today cannot really be green, unless we can *FINALLY* get nuclear fusion working, which is 50 years away, isn't it?
    • by alop (67204)

      The article is not clear on this, but the site it references (coffeecar.org) states the fuel is spent coffee grounds. So, it's maybe a little greener than using whole raw beans. At least it's using something that would otherwise go into the garbage, or my garden.

    • Not necessarily -- at least for coffee beans and the like. Search Google, and you'll see tutorials on converting your *USED* coffee grounds into fire-starter logs (like the Duraflame logs sold in grocery stores). With coffee, tea, etc., you can use the product as you normally would, then recycle the leftover grounds for your fuel source. Just imagine how much fuel you could produce by recycling the used grounds from every Starbucks and Duncan Donuts in the U.S. :)
      • As any good slashdotter, I didn't RTFA, so if that's true, that it runs on coffee grouns leftovers, that would be a little greener, but how many coffees would I have to drink to get to work everyday? I think I'd never sleep again and would always be at the restroom...
    • I'd think that, after proof of concept stage, they would look for a good fuel that could be converted at low cost and low environmental impact. One biofuel candidate I've heard of is Kudzu. It's an invasive vine species that's taken over parts of the south. We could harvest it and, given its quick growth rate, it'd grow back rapidly. Even if we wound up depleting the supply, we'd only be cleaning up an invasive species that we introduced into the ecosystem in the first place.

  • What an expensive choice. Is this just a PR stunt, or is there something inherently better (say, volatile oils) that makes coffee beans better than, say, wood?
    • I haven't RTFA, but perhaps it runs on grounds instead of beans? There's certainly lots of those laying around...
      • by alop (67204)

        The site coffeecar.org makes reference to using waste from coffee shops. So, I guess that better than wasting perfectly good beans.

    • by Aguazul (620868)
      It is a waste product normally thrown away.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jm007 (746228)
      If I had to guess as to why use coffee beans as fuel, I understand that when roasted, they are actually subjected to a process called torrefaction. In this way, moisture and other undesirable compounds in the raw biomass are boiled off. What remains has a Btu content just under that of coal, burns more consistently, and is resistant to moisture. Even if the coffee was first used to make the tasty beverage, I'm sure the used grounds would still have plenty of use as a gasification fuel.

      The costs of pro
  • They don't mention how they reach the temperature required for gasification of the beans. That requires some energy input, and they didn't say where that energy came from.

    Not that gasoline as we know and use it today comes with no cost, but if efficiency and cleanliness is what they are after, a little more disclosure would be useful.
    • Good point. But gasification has the clever side-effect of letting you use otherwise wasted heat from exhaust and cooling systems to at least partially power it. Maybe you can also burn some of the coffee grounds directly to start up the process.

    • Thats pretty simple. You just hook up some generators to a bunch of caffeine addicts and then start waving the beans in front of them. The energy that can be harnessed from the sheer amount of twitching is more than enough to convert those beans into fuel. Just don't let those people know what you did with the beans or there will be trouble.
  • If it's sensible, this could be useful in some areas, for some vehicles. Looks like the whole gassification assembly is not exactly a work of precision engineering and could be built in somewhat sub-standard conditions. I'd expect that many third-world plantations of easily gassified produce have lots of leftovers and not all of those have sensible uses to date - some might be just dumped somewhere to rot.

    On a different note, if I were the CEO of Starbucks, I'd get such a car as a publicity and marketing stunt, and power it with dried left-overs from brewing.

    • I would love to see this installed up in an area like International Falls where they have literally tons of old sawdust sitting in piles and every once and a while the set them ablaze to get rid of them. The smell of wood smoke is nice is small amounts but the amount when it fills an entire town you get really sick of it quickly when driving through.
  • The Coffee Car was created with the sole intention of proving that renewable/green energy sources can power cars.

    Yeah, but that's not the trick. The trick is proving that it can be done affordably (i.e., in a way that doesn't make it ten times as expensive as conventional fossil fuels).

    • I have been around on some of the green energy vehicle forums (trying to figure out how to properly convert an engine to run on alcohol) and I have seen similar setups in the back of a pickups. There they had a wood fired gassification chamber that was filled with wood. I have built a similar setup that uses the syngas as fuel to make charcoal. Granted this is a very simple setup, one metal bucket with some legs on the bottom and a smaller bucket (needs to fit in the larger one) with a metal tube coming out
  • Well, now we know why Starbucks has been opening franchises on every street corner possible, they apparently saw this tech coming. Next item on the agenda... sponsor NASCAR & Rally cars.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Coffee Car was created with the sole intention of proving that renewable/green energy sources can power cars ...

    Because everyone knows that wood pellets - you know, the fuel source used by the previous record holder? - aren't a renewable resource. I mean, it's not like they freaking grow on trees or anything, amirite?

    I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

    • by _0xd0ad (1974778)

      The previous record holder only went 47 MPH. While you might call that a "car", I wouldn't recommend taking it on the highway.

      • The previous record holder only went 47 MPH. While you might call that a "car", I wouldn't recommend taking it on the highway.

        I would argue that any conveyance that requires heaps of material such as coffee grounds, or wood pellets should not be taken on the highway even if it can go fast enough - because you can too quickly get beyond your piles of fuel. These things seem much better suited to in-city driving (though the ability to go at least 55 would be desirable even for that).

    • Trees, coffee, corn/ethanol... both expensive in resources and take long to grow. I'm curious if anyone's tried using common weeds as fuel? Or even bamboo, which can grow up to 100 cm a day...

  • Pfft (Score:5, Funny)

    by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Monday September 26, 2011 @02:24PM (#37518232)

    Everybody knows you dont use Java for speed.

  • We would all surely hate to see coffee prices go up as it becomes the new super-biodiesel. Maybe we would have to fall back to drinking gasoline?

  • Mr. Fusion by 2015!

  • Grounds not Beans! (Score:5, Informative)

    by alop (67204) on Monday September 26, 2011 @02:38PM (#37518438) Journal

    The BBC article is not clear on the fuel at all, the site coffeecar.org, states the car uses spent coffee grounds for fuel. So, this isn't as asinine as it originally sounds, just turning waste into syngas, not a useable (valuable, tasty) commodity for syngas.

  • by istartedi (132515) on Monday September 26, 2011 @02:58PM (#37518718) Journal

    I'd like to see a practical version of this that runs on junk mail. Unfortunately, burning the inks in glossy coupon flyers probably doesn't smell so good. It might be toxic too.

    And yes, it wouldn't really be green. It's just that as long as the postman keeps delivering free fuel to me, I'd like a way to use it.

    • by cashman73 (855518)
      Great idea! That might solve the USPS's budget issues as well!
    • by Bob9113 (14996)

      runs on junk mail.

      I did some testing of fueling a biochar maker with junk mail. I had problems with creosote buildup on the spark arrestor, but I definitely think it could be fixed. Ultimately, though, I suspect low-therm processes, such as vermiculture, would be more efficient both in terms of sequestration rate and ultimately in fuel generation (by using the fertilizer to increase the growth rate of crops that are more suited to biofuel processing).

      Don't know if my post really adds much to the conversatio

  • "The car that never sleeps!"

    Mind you, if I recall correctly, the 2nd biggest commodity after oil is coffee. If true, we could find ourselves bound by "BIG COFFEE"

  • When the lobster and truffle powered car hits the street, mankind will be saved!
  • they run really fast for a few hours and then crash!
  • No wonder I let loose so much after drinking coffee.

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