Published on 01/11/2022
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Aston University researchers ‘feed’ leftover coffee grounds to microalgae to produce low emission biodiesel


  • High quality biodiesel produced from microalgae ‘fed’ on leftover coffee grounds
  • Breakthrough in the microalgal cultivation system
  • Could decrease reliance on palm oil to produce biofuel.

Two Aston University researchers have produced high-quality biodiesel after  ‘feeding’ and growing microalgae on leftover coffee grounds.

Dr Vesna Najdanovic, senior lecturer in chemical engineering and Dr Jiawei Wang were part of a team that grew algae which was then processed into fuel.  

In just the UK, approximately 98 million cups of coffee are drunk each day, contributing to a massive amount of spent coffee grounds which are processed as general waste, often ending up in landfill or incineration.

However the researchers found that spent coffee grounds provide both nutrients to feed, and a structure on which the microalgae (Chlorella vulgaris sp.) can grow. 

As a result, they were able to extract enhanced biodiesel that produces minimal emissions and good engine performance, and meets US and European specifications.  

The study, Enhancing growth environment for attached microalgae to populate onto spent coffee grounds in producing biodiesel, appears in the November 2022 issue of Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

Up till now, algae has been grown on materials such as polyurethane foam and nylon that don’t provide any nutrients. However, the researchers found that microalgal cells can grow on the leftover coffee without needing other external nutrients. 

They also found that exposing the algae to light for 20 hours a day, and dark for just four hours days created the best quality biodiesel.

Dr Najdanovic said: “This is a breakthrough in the microalgal cultivation system.

“Biodiesel from microalgae attached to spent coffee grounds could be an ideal choice for new feedstock commercialisation, avoiding competition with food crops. 

“Furthermore, using this new feedstock could decrease the cutting down of palm trees to extract oil to produce biofuel. 

“In southeast Asia this has led to continuous deforestation and increased greenhouse gas emissions.”

The research was developed in collaboration with colleagues from Malaysia, Thailand, Egypt, South Africa and India. Their work was supported by the 2020-21 Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) block grant funded by the UK Research and Innovation (Aston University). 

Notes to editors

Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews Volume 169, November 2022, 112940

Nurulfarah AdilahRosmahadia HemamaliniRawindrana JunWeiLimak WoraponKiatkittipongb SuttichaiAssabumrungratcd VesnaNajdanovic-Visake JiaweiWange Boredi SilasChidif Chii-DongHog Eman AlaaeldinAbdelfattahh Sze MunLami Jin ChungSinj


HICoE-Centre for Biofuel and Biochemical Research, Institute of Self-Sustainable Building, Department of          a Fundamental and Applied Sciences, Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS, 32610, Seri Iskandar, Perak Darul Ridzuan, Malaysia                                                                                                                                                                                                                


Department of Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Industrial Technology, Silpakorn University, Nakhon Pathom, 73000, Thailand


Center of Excellence in Catalysis and Catalytic Reaction Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, 10330, Thailand


Bio-Circular-Green-Economy Technology & Engineering Center, BCGeTEC, Department of Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, 10330, Thailand


Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, Energy & Bioproducts Research Institute, Aston University, Birmingham, B4 7ET, United Kingdom


Bioresource Engineering Research Group (BioERG), Cape Peninsula University of Technology, P.O. Box 652, Cape Town, 8000, South Africa


Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, Tamkang University, Tamsui, New Taipei 251, Taiwan


Lecturer of Biochemistry and Molecular Science, Entomology Department, Faculty of Science, Cairo University, Egypt


Department of Environmental Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Green Technology, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, Jalan Universiti, Bandar Barat, 31900, Kampar, Perak, Malaysia


Department of Petrochemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Green Technology, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, Jalan Universiti, Bandar Barat, 31900, Kampar, Perak, Malaysia


Department of Biotechnology, Saveetha School of Engineering, Saveetha Institute of Medical and Technical Sciences, Chennai, India

About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a university since 1966, Aston University is a long-established university led by its three main beneficiary groups – students, business and the professions, and the West Midlands region and wider society. Located in Birmingham at the heart of a vibrant city, the campus houses all the University’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Aleks Subic is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.

 Aston University is ranked 22 in the Guardian University Guide, based on measures including entry standards, student satisfaction, research quality and graduate prospects. The Aston Business School MBA programme was ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking.

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