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Architecture school turned me into a green entrepreneur

Architects are good at connecting dots. They are rarely specialists, instead they cross-pollinate ideas from the arts and sciences, writes Arthur Kay

While studying for my BSc in Architecture at London’s Bartlett School (UCL), it became clear to me that an architect’s sphere of influence should not be limited to designing buildings. Where, how and in what people live affects us all, so the principles of design can and should be applied across disciplines.

Architects are good at connecting dots. They are rarely specialists, instead cross- pollinating ideas from the arts and sciences. Human progress has been driven by the meeting of different ideas to make new ones. Thus architects provide a deeper understanding of how to translate these ideas and accelerate and scale these trends.

This revelation was the driving force behind the co-founding a green energy company with fellow architectural graduate Benjamin Harriman. Bio-bean recycles waste coffee grounds into Advanced Biofuels. The biodiesel and biomass pellets we produce from this waste are cost- effective, carbon neutral alternatives to conventional fuels, used for heating buildings. While architecture may seem a world apart from what we do at bio-bean, I see strong parallels between the two.

My architectural studies showed me the benefits of creating an innovative and timely solution to some of societies’ pressing needs, and, most relevantly for bio-bean, introduced me to the idea of creating circular, closed-loop systems within buildings.

With this in mind, I began focusing in on a very particular supply chain – that of the coffee industry, looking into how coffee shops and production facilities dispose of their waste. In doing so, I discovered a series of disparate technologies, which, if applied within a business framework could become an environmentally and commercially pioneering enterprise.

We consume a phenomenal amount of coffee each year and currently only extract the taste from the bean – the rest is wasted. Coffee processing factories dispose of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste coffee grounds each year, polluting the environment and costing the industry tens of millions of pounds.

Bio-bean has tapped into this resource to offset the UK’s growing energy demands. Coffee is a pure and highly calorific waste stream with 15-20% in residual oils. We have developed a sophisticated coffee-waste-recycling infrastructure to collect this waste and transport it to our processing facility, where we are using pioneering mechanical and biochemical techniques to recycle this waste at an industrial scale.

 

To date, bio-bean has been endorsed and funded by some prestigious institutions and we have received over a £1m in backing, including $100,000 in funding from Founder.org and £20,000 from Santander as part of its Universities Entrepreneurship competition.  Other backers include Shell, the GLA, Berkeley Group, TSB, RBS, UKTI, and importantly my alma mater, UCL.

Since graduating this time last year, Ben and I have expanded the team to over a dozen members, received significant financing from private investors and formed partnerships with some of the largest coffee companies in the UK.

Today, bio-bean is focused on scaling the business in the UK. Our processing facility is projected to process over 100,000 tonnes of waste coffee grounds over the coming years saving hundreds of thousands of tonnes in CO2emissions.

Our eventual ambition is to introduce the idea of waste as a resource to a wider market. Through employing a sustainable circular business model, bio-bean has the potential to become an enterprise with a global reach and one that will deliver economic, social and environmental value.

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