Starbucks: Energy Company of the Future?

Starbucks' coffee grounds may soon be the next black gold.

Jul 13, 2014 at 10:43AM

Any bleary-eyed commuter, overtired parent, or sleep-deprived college student already appreciates the energy boost that Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) offers. But, Starbucks' energy jolts may extend past its espressos, Frappuccinos, and iced teas -- those used coffee grounds may eventually power the office building that you're commuting to.

A green leader 
Starbucks isn' just known by its easily recognizable, green-aproned employees. The company is celebrated for its sense of social responsibility, and it prides itself on its commitment to protecting the environment.


Source: Starbucks

In 2013, the company reduced its water usage by 21% over the baseline levels -- a large step toward the goal of reducing it by 25% by 2015; moreover, Starbucks increased the stores that offer its customers the chance to recycle by 67%, and it now counts 18 more countries which have LEED-certified stores. The company's efforts at minimizing its environmental impact is clear, so it would seem logical that if the company had the opportunity to recycle one of its most significant sources of waste -- coffee beans -- it would jump on it.

Turning the other side of the pond a little greener


Source: Bio-Bean

Keeping spent coffee grinds from filling up landfills in England, Bio-Bean process about 30,000 tons of the 200,000 tons of coffee waste that London coffee shops produce every year. According to the company website, it "uses a sophisticated coffee waste recycling infrastructure to collect this waste and transport it to our local processing plant."

Afterwards, the company converts the waste into two Advanced Biofuels: biomass pellets and biodiesel. The company then sells this to London businesses that use it to power buildings and for transportation. Since Bio-Bean only operates in London, it seems plausible that Starbucks pilots a project with one of its 50 stores in the city. If successful, Starbucks and Bio-Bean could then potentially bring the program to cities outside of London -- perhaps even to other countries.

Biofuel experts
One company that is already paving the way in the recycling of used food products is Darling Ingredients (NYSE:DAR). With a market cap of $3.3 billion, the company is clearly more experienced than the small start-up, Bio-Bean, but it is an example of how large the market is for deriving power from food waste.

In business for over 100 years, the company operates over 200 facilities on 5 continents. In 2013, Darling International formed Diamond Green Diesel -- a $445 million joint-venture with Valero Energy Corp. (NYSE:VLO) that fulfills nearly 15% of the national biomass-based biodiesel mandate. The endeavor has an annual production of 137 million gallons or 9,300 barrels per day. According to the company website, Valero then "markets the renewable diesel, distributing via pipeline using its distribution network." In addition to the renewable diesel, Diamond Green Diesel obtains co-products of its process like renewable butane, renewable propane, and Naptha.

Screen Shot  
Source: Darling International

Foolish final takeaway
Innovation in energy comes in all shapes and sizes -- deriving biofuels from coffee grounds is no different. Although Bio-Bean only operates in London, Starbucks has more than enough stores which could provide Bio-Bean with a valuable partnership. It doesn't seem too far-fetched that the two companies would work together considering Starbucks' sense of environmental stewardship. Who knows? There may come a time when our cars are driving along on Starbucks coffee long after our own Starbucks-inspired caffeine buzzes have expired.

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Scott Levine owns shares of Starbucks. The Motley Fool recommends Darling Ingredients and Starbucks. The Motley Fool owns shares of Starbucks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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