Coffee powered car in land speed record bid

It looks like a normal old Rover car being raced along a runway to set a speed record but this vehicle is radically different to just about every other car on Britain’s roads – and it may even point in the direction of creating new waste-driven vehicles.

Behind one of the most novel world land speed record breaking attempts, lies a serious message about what we send to landfill.

For Martin Bacon and his band of willing helpers from Teesdale’s Conservation Volunteers have built a car which runs on COFFEE!

coffee car

Preparing the coffee car

Actually, it runs on used coffee grounds to power a petrol engine but the engineering principle behind it is sound – and that’s gasification.

Martin, 42, said: “We want to engage with people, especially youngsters, to think about the possible potential for reuse of what we send to landfill.

“We are a practical conservation group who have been running for over 15 years. One of our biggest projects is called Rotters Community Composting where we collect green waste from homes, process and deliver back top quality compost to more than 12,000 homes in Teesdale, County Durham. “

It’s this work which has inspired Martin to engage with people on finding solutions to the amount of rubbish we create that work.

The Coffee Car

The Coffee Car

He added: “Every year we send tens of thousands of tons of used coffee grounds and other usable waste streams to dumps and we could easily convert them into usable fuels.

“This car is an example of that. We convert the coffee into pellets and put them into the car.

“We’ve had to find an old car with a carburettor and then go about breaking the land speed record for a car powered by gasification.”

The original speed record for this class was set originally in the USA at 47mph and the team was aiming to reach 80mph on the day – which had done when they were testing it.

Martin and his team headed to the former WW2 bomber airbase at Elvington, outside York, north Yorkshire, to set the world record in their modified 1974 Rover SD12300– nicknamed the ‘Expresso’.

The car has been adapted to run on gas created by burning used coffee grounds in the vehicle by Martin and his son 16 year-old-son Philip at the eco team’s Conservation and Community Composting Site (Rotters) near Barnard Castle County Durham.

While gasification is ‘old technology’, it didn’t take off because it was renowned for being very slow, Martin’s team set out to prove that with a little bit of tinkering that belief can be disproved and give the power of the gasifier a new lease of life.

Martin said: “Using gasification to fuel an engine this huge has never been done before. It’s taken a lot of fine tuning to get it to this level but it’s been worth it. I think we have proved a lot with the work we have done here.”


Martin the Coffee Car

On the day the car performed well with their first run measured at 75mph. With a head wind and deteriorating weather the team didn’t match that heady start but another run of 58mph led to an average speed of 66mph – which clinches the world record.

Though the team had to re-fuel the gasifier regularly, they were keen to make their mark.

And what a process! There’s some excellent engineering work in the boot of the old Rover – and underneath the bonnet too.

The gasifier sits in the boot which is where the coffee pellets are poured and moments later, when the process kicks into life, steam is pouring from an engine outlet. That’s capped and the car is ready to go.

The Rover itself loses a lot of its performance but Martin’s work is aimed at creating speed rather then the perfect car. As he races up the former runway the car sounds and acts like any other – though perhaps a little slower.

Fuelling the Coffee Car

Fuelling the Coffee Car

Martin said: “It’s not the easiest thing to do to run a car on coffee and the project has been fraught with problems.  One of the problems was using a cheap secondhand car but modern cars have too many sensors, and they are fuel injection.

“When fuel was short in World War 2, gasification vehicles were used to great effect. We want people to have another look at the technology.”

He added: “Whatever happens, getting the world record is a great result – we’ve got it and part of what we want to do is to enthuse young people to take a look at the science and engineering we’ve done here. Weare seeking a sponsor to enable us to take the coffee car around schools to explain what can be done with a waste product and help to inspire young minds into making Britain a leader in manufacturing once again.”

And for Martin and his team, the work on developing the technology necessary to convert waste into fuel goes on.

Martin said: “The serious side of this project has been to illustrate the need for energy creation and create gas-standard cars for the future. We’ve shown they don’t have to be bulky or slow.

“We are now exploring the Fischer Tropsch process of turning gas produced in a gasifier into a usable diesel fuel.”

Last minute tweaks to the Coffee Car

Last minute tweaks to the Coffee Car

For the land speed record attempt, the team collected used coffee grounds every day from two nearby cafes and they calculate that for every 10kgs they pick-up they can convert that into fuel for 100 miles.

Martin said: “People don’t realise the volume of coffee grounds we are throwing away – it’s a huge amount going to landfill every year. We want people to stop and think about what they are throwing away and start thinking about what other uses their rubbish can be used for.”

He points out that the same gasification process used in the coffee car could be used to power a car on other unusual fuels, such as woodchips or walnut shells, construction debris or agricultural waste.

Now with the record secure, Martin and his team are set to tour schools to illustrate their thinking about waste and help youngsters engage with science and engineering.

At least for one generation, coffee will now be more than just a drink in a cup.

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