America’s ‘first’ 100% renewable biogas-powered coffee roastery

Vermont Coffee Company said on 17 May that it has become the first US coffee roaster to use 100% renewable biogas to roast its coffee. Both thermal and electric energy are sourced from renewable methane.

The company says that it has been trying to get to this system in place for some time.  "Renewable electricity was the easy part," says company founder and CEO, Paul Ralston. "The real challenge was getting a renewable thermal energy source to replace propane."  Methane is the input for both forms of renewable energy. Anaerobic digesters operated by Addison County dairy farms extract methane gas from cow manure and convert it into electricity. This renewable energy source is delivered by Green Mountain Power. The source for the company's renewable biogas is methane recovered from a Quebec-based engineered landfill operated by EBI Énergie and delivered by Vermont Gas Company.

Before making the conversion to 100% renewables, Vermont Coffee Company implemented a multi-year investment to make its roastery more energy efficient. "It's hard to believe," says Ralston, "but we reduced the amount of fuel used to roast a pound of coffee by more than 70%, and electric consumption per pound has also been reduced dramatically." Energy efficiencies have come from adopting new roasting technology and modifying roasting processes.

"The capital investment to upgrade our roasters was significant, but our first responsibility is efficiency, and increased efficiency makes the higher cost of renewable energy less of an issue. Renewable bio-energy costs more to produce, and we voluntarily pay a premium price to our suppliers for the renewables we consume. It's important that we invest in better technology so we're not passing our higher utility costs on to our customers."

Moving to renewable energy is in line with the company's philosophy. "Our mission is 'Coffee Roasted for Friends,'" says Ralston, "and our customers care that our coffee is 100% certified organic. We believe they'll be excited that our energy now comes from 100% renewable sources."

Vermont Coffee Company is a roaster located in Middlebury, Vermont. The company began roasting commercially in 2000 and now employs 35 people. Its organic coffee is sold in chain grocery stores, local markets and food co-ops throughout the Northeast. Products are also sold nationally via the company's online store.

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