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Business founded by UCL graduate is now world's largest recycler of coffee grounds

Arthur Kay (BSc Architecture 2013) founded bio-bean as a student at UCL’s entrepreneurship hub in 2013. The company has gone on to become the world's largest recycler of spent coffee grounds.

Large bag of coffee grounds

24 September 2020

bio-bean transforms spent coffee grounds into a variety of sustainable products, such as solid biofuels for use in the home and by industry. They work with UK businesses of every size, including Costa and Stansted Airport.

By recycling coffee grounds, bio-bean saves businesses money, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and contributes to the circular economy. The entire process reduces CO2e emissions by 80% compared with sending the grounds to landfill.

A system without waste

The UK consumes 95 million cups of coffee every day, creating hundreds of thousands of tonnes of spent coffee grounds every year. 

As a student, Arthur Kay came up with the seed of an idea when tasked with designing a sustainable coffee shop as part of his architecture degree at UCL Bartlett. He discovered that coffee grounds are highly calorific, with a high oil content, making them an ideal feedstock for biofuels.

Arthur transformed his idea into a reality with support from UCL Innovation & Enterprise. He took part in the extracurricular entrepreneurship programmes as well as receiving business advice and mentoring. He also had access to free office space in BaseKX, UCL’s entrepreneurship hub in King’s Cross. 

“I had support from so many different parts of UCL, especially from UCL Innovation & Enterprise. Winning the Bright Ideas award (now ‘Build your own business 3: Launch your business’) was the first real boost, allowing me to commit to the business full-time and help make bio-bean a reality. I’d encourage students to use the vast resources at hand in UCL. If you look for it, you'll find the people and the support to build your vision.”

An ongoing legacy of enterprise

In the years since it launched, bio-bean has grown rapidly, expanding its range of product innovations, raising several million pounds in investment and growing to a team of over 30. With the main processing plant in Cambridgeshire and a lab in Enfield, the company has recycled over 20,000 tonnes of spent grounds to date. 

Both the company and Arthur have attracted numerous awards and accolades since the company launched at UCL. 

Arthur is no longer involved in the business, having returned to his architectural roots and founding a new startup, Skyroom, in 2018. Skyroom is a technology and urban development company which delivers precision-manufactured homes in the airspace above existing buildings.

He also retains strong links with UCL through his role as Entrepreneur in Residence at the UCL Institute for Global Prosperity.

With Professor Henrietta Moore (Director of the UCL Institute for Global Prosperity) he launched Fast Forward 2030 to convene a group of London-based entrepreneurs to look at enterprise and behaviours that will help deliver the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Jerry Allen, Director for Entrepreneurship at UCL Innovation & Enterprise, said: “bio-bean is a fantastic example of the circular economy in action, where we make innovative use of our waste and existing resources. Arthur is a natural entrepreneur, who was able to realise the great potential of his idea with support from The Bartlett at UCL and UCL Innovation & Enterprise. His success with bio-bean is a continued source of inspiration for our startups coming through today devising their own innovative solutions to societal challenges.” 

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