Fair Trade Ethanol: Fuel Production from Coffee Wastes

EPA Grant Number: SU833921
Title: Fair Trade Ethanol: Fuel Production from Coffee Wastes
Investigators: Winston, Susan , Martin, Jack , Ramsdell, Jeff , Ferrell, Jeremy , Cockerill, Kristan
Institution: Appalachian State University
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2008 through August 14, 2009
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2008) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Air Quality , P3 Challenge Area - Safe and Sustainable Water Resources , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainable and Healthy Communities


The wastewater produced from the wet-processing of coffee places a heavy burden on the local ecosystems. Currently, there are few environmentally sound measures that monitor the discharge of this effluent. It is often discarded in a manner that disrupts both streams and the local water supplies. The purpose of this project is to design and develop a coffee wastewater treatment system that incorporates the production of ethanol and bio-gas in the remediation process. The technologies required to implement this process are well established and broadly understood, but the system we are suggesting incorporates them in ways that, to our knowledge, have never been done before. The innovative objectives of this project are:

  1. Determine potential ethanol production from coffee pulp and wash water for the design of scalable ethanol distillation processing units.
  2. Determine potential production of methane and nitrate rich effluent for the design of scalable anaerobic digestion units.
  3. Develop a biogas transfer system to provide process heat for ethanol distillation.
  4. Incorporate solar thermal and photovoltaic technologies to supply supplemental process heat and electrical pumping for ethanol distillation units.


A partnership between a small coffee producing farm in Nicaragua and the Appropriate Technology program at Appalachian State University has been formed through various renewable energy projects over the past two years. We intend to deepen this relationship as we begin work on the wastewater treatment project. The initial step in the process will be to determine its feasibility using the results from field study, lab scale experimentation, and input from the community. Before, during, and following the trip we will conduct surveys in the communities where these technologies are being tested to determine if they are appropriately placed and accepted by community members. We will also hold workshops in the communities and at Appalachian State University for students and faculty. The results from our research will serve as the basis to develop these technologies on a larger scale.

Expected Results:

If successful, this project could dramatically improve the sustainability of coffee production. It addresses some of the major concerns confronting human beings today in unique and innovative ways. The scarcity of potable water, healthy streams and waterways, and supplies of energy are of paramount importance to people around the globe. This is especially true of peoples that inhabit the developing world where a majority of the world’s coffee is grown and processed.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 3 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Industrial Symbiosis, Clean Energy, Green Chemistry, Original Technologies, Conservation, Waste Reduction, Green Engineering, Atmosphere, Cleaner Production, Pollution Prevention, Nature, Natural Model, Waste Equals Food, Multidisciplinary, Environmental Education, Bio-based Energy, Bio-fuel, Biotechnology, International Cooperation, Environmental Engineering, Alternative To Petroleum, Drinking Water, Greenhouse Gas Reduction, Emission Control, Arabica, Central America, Agricultural improvement,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, Sustainable Environment, Energy, Environmental Chemistry, Technology for Sustainable Environment, sustainable development, environmental sustainability, alternative materials, biomass, alternative fuel, biodiesel fuel, energy efficiency, energy technology, carbon credits, alternative energy source

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report