Researchers at the University of Manitoba are finding a new use for discarded coffee cups by turning them into cellulosic ethanol.
According to a story from Canada’s CBC News, the researchers are using one particular kind of disposable coffee cups, from the Tim Hortons coffee chain, founded in 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario and very popular in Canada. Microbiologists Richard Sparling and David Levin started the project last year when they noticed all the discarded coffee cups from Tim Hortons outlets on the University of Manitoba campus and came up with the idea that they might make good food for bacteria they were testing to make biofuels. So far, they’ve found that 100 Tim Hortons cups can make 1.3 litres of ethanol, or about a third of a gallon.
The researchers say the Tim Hortons cups, as well as other paper products, are processed and pre-treated to be “bacteria-ready” and therefore could be a great source of waste material for cellulose to make ethanol. Interestingly, they found that the bacteria seem to like the Tim Hortons cups better than similar cups from other places like Starbucks, which may be due to the specific recipe for the paper used by the manufacturer that supplies the cups to each company.