Revive Eco: Can coffee waste replace palm oil?
Coffee or tea? Despite the stereotype, Britain is now firmly a nation of coffee drinkers, consuming 95 million cups a day, according to the British Coffee Association. And what’s left over from all that coffee? A lot of used coffee grounds – which usually end up in the bin, or at best in the food waste caddy.
Glasgow start-up Revive Eco thinks there might be a better use for those waste coffee grounds, one that has the potential to tackle another global environmental problem: palm oil. The company is developing a process to extract and purify the oils from used coffee grounds, whichit says have the exact same components as the widely-used but much-maligned palm oil.
“We can extract a number of different oils from the coffee grounds which have similar characteristics to palm oil – we have extracted these oils on a lab scale and know that they are in there,” explains Fergus Moore, co-founder of Revive along with business partner Scott Kennedy. “The market for these oils is enormous; each has different uses in industries such as cosmetics, food and drink and household products. Basically in any product that currently contains palm oil or any of its derivatives, our oils could become a local and sustainable alternative ingredient.”
The problem with palm oil
Palm oil, made from the fruit of oil palm trees, is present in a huge number of products we use and consume daily, from biscuits and ice cream to make-up and cleaning products. But the oil is increasingly coming under fire for the way it is produced, with deforestation taking place on a massive scale in Asia, Latin America and West Africa to make way for oil palm plantations, in the process destroying the homes of local people and the habitats of endangered species like orangutans and tigers. Huge single-crop plantations also contribute to soil degradation and erosion, while the clearing of peat forests for oil palm plantations – often by burning – destroys crucial ‘carbon sinks’, landscapes that can draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Moore and Kennedy lighted on the idea for Revive in 2015 while studying Marketing and Entrepreneurship at the University of Strathclyde and both working in hospitality. “We had seen people coming into our work and asking for bags of used coffee grounds to take home to put on their compost heap,” Moore says. “We therefore knew that there must be more value in this material than simply putting it in the bin and sending it off to landfill or to be incinerated. We started researching different things that we could do with coffee grounds and straight away knew we were onto something.”
"In any product that currently contains palm oil or any of its derivatives, our oils could become a local and sustainable alternative ingredient."
Currently, the team is busy developing the technology to extract and purify oils from coffee on an industrial scale, and it is hoped that a demonstration unit will be running in Glasgow by September. Revive also works with waste management partners in Scotland to provide a recycling service for waste coffee, collecting just over a tonne a month from clients spread across the central belt of Scotland – including the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), the University of Edinburgh, the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Glasgow Science Centre. As well as oils, Revive turns the waste coffee it collects into other products, such as natural chemical alternatives and a soil conditioner.
Coffee: The world’s first ‘sustainable commodity’?
The Revive star appears to be on the rise, with a number of awards under its belt, including a LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award in 2016 and a Green Champion Award from the Glasgow Business Awards in 2017. In 2018, the team secured £235,000 in funding from Zero Waste Scotland’s Circular Economy Investment Fund.
In the short term, the company is aiming to finalise the development of its extraction technology within six months, and is looking to expand the team to support this goal. Longer term, Moore explains, “our goal is to make coffee the world’s first sustainable commodity. We want to grow Revive internationally as quickly as possible and maximise the impact we can have.”
Expansion is on the horizon, not just into new countries, but possibly also into new waste streams: “We can license the technology, franchise into new countries, create our own B2C [business-to-consumer] products and we are really excited to apply the technology to other waste streams in the future as well.
“Whilst economic expansion is important, we are equally motivated to expand our environmental impact. We hope that our work can inspire other businesses and individuals to start thinking more sustainably. If we can motivate even just one company to start acting more sustainably, that is equally as valuable to us bringing in a new coffee collections client or a new customer for our oils.”