London Buses Run on Bio-Bean

Bio-Bean, a British startup, has started to partner with companies such as Shell and Argent Energy to create a coffee-based diesel fuel to be used in London’s various busses. In 2013 the company was founded by Arthur Kay and is the first company that aspires to industrialize the process of recycling waste coffee grounds into biofuels and chemicals.

The company does not believe in waste; just misplaced resources that they strive to produce into clean fuel. On their website, Bio-bean states that “spent coffee grounds are highly calorific and contain valuable compounds, making them an ideal feed stock from which to produce clean fuels.” The startup saw potential to create this fuel from the 500,000 tons of coffee grounds in UK landfills and an opportunity to help save the environment by reducing the amount of methane, a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere.

In previous years, the company produced various products such as the “Coffee Log”, (£7.99 or about $10.75) a product used to sustainably heat homes. The log works by packing together 25 cups of ground coffee into a block of material that has been measured to produce “about 20% more energy than wood” (Bio-Bean). Currently, the startup is taking its goals a step forward and is planning to turn coffee waste into a clean fuel to be tested in  the public transit network of London.

As of November 20th, 2017, The company has produced a total of 6,000 liters of coffee oil and, with the help of the London Transit Authority, planed to power one London bus for a year to test for efficiency. Bio-Bean collects coffee waste from various cafes, restaurants, and factories in the area, then sends the wastes to a recycling plant. There the grounds are dried before the coffee oil can be extracted. The coffee oil is then blended with other fuels and oils to produce B20 Bio-fuel (20% bio-components) which can be used in diesel buses and vehicles without additional modifications. Use of this fuel costs significantly less than the use of traditional diesel fuels and allows for a cleaner environment.

It is always interesting to see how a small project such as Bio-Bean develops and progresses with time. The creation of the coffee log was unique as it introduced recycled coffee as a way to heat a home. The new deal with Shell and Argent takes this small startup to the next level. As they create this futuristic fuel, many could call into question its ability to be used in society. There are many other alternatives that attempt to reduce the emission of harmful gases, such as electric cars, but unfortunately are making small changes in the environment. Thus, it will be fascinating to see if Bio-Bean will be a leader in making the planet healthier

Bio-bean is not the first company to pursue an interest in alternative fuel sources. Many other companies have seen the potential for the successful adaptation of bio-fuel and have implemented it in many ways that are both similar and different to what Bio-Bean attempts to do.

In 2017, a company by the name of Fiberight began construction on a facility with the intention of converting “trash and in some cases corn stalks or wheat straw” (Barney)  into a form of bio-fuel. This company, while also focusing on recycling, has set a goal of “transforming… solid waste and other organic feed stocks into next generation renewable bio-fuels with cellulosic ethanol as the core product” (Barney).

Another company working towards a similar goal is Plastic2Oil. This company, while doing essentially what the name entails, combats liter while producing an “ultra-clean, ultra low sulphur fuel” (Barney). The company is able to take on two problems with one solution. This is done by utilizing liter and other waste in their production of fuel. In doing so, there is an “economic benefit” for the government and other organizations as litter becomes less of an issue. The company tends to have around an 86% success rate when creating this fuel from litter and for every 8.3 pounds of litter collected one gallon of fuel is able to be produced.

Despite London’s goal of an emission-free transport network by 2050, as of time of writing, Bio- Bean has no formal agreement to continue using its coffee based fuel in London buses. The company is currently looking for new markets and for ways to continue to innovate. Recently in a written statement, the company set its sights on America as “there is huge potential to expand the project into the U.S, which drinks the most coffee on the planet, 400 million cups a day” (Bio-Bean).


China’s New Revolutionary Surveillance System Could Be A Breach on Citizens’ Privacies

For anyone that has seen the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive” that is on Netflix, recent developments in China can sound all too familiar in terms of how the social structure for people is determined. In the episode, the directors depict a world where people are given scores by their peers and are awarded access to resources and entrance into places depending on the quality of their score.

In the show, the woman went to the café and had to rate her barista on a scale from 1 to 10.

The episode documents a woman that, at the beginning of the episode, was not too far away from being at the score that would be considered elite and award her exclusive access to things others don’t have access to, but, by the end of the episode, she is on the side of the street begging for someone of any score to pick her up and drive her home.


While the directors created this type of episode to scare viewers of what the future with advancing technology might look like, this type of society might not be too far from happening in China. Earlier this month, it was revealed that China is leading the race to become the first to implement a pervasive system of algorithmic surveillance. Using facial recognition and artificial intelligence, the system would essentially give each citizen a “score” to encourage good behavior. A vast accompanying network of surveillance cameras will constantly monitor citizen’s every movements, they say in the hopes to reduce crime and terrorism.

A goal of the government is also to track what people say about the regime and have the capability to punish those who speak down towards them, but they of course haven’t come right out and said that as that might sound too alarming. The country has long been associated with condemning its citizens from saying anything bad about the government; however, the development of this technology may now allow China to punish citizens that speak out against what the government is doing.

The technology has the capability to essentially watch your every move. Saying positive things online about the government could award the individual faster internet service or a VISA so they can travel out of the country, while saying negative things about the regime could lead to a lower score and no access to those things.

This development extends into the business world as well. Although there have been financial systems that are able to track a person’s history of transactions for a credit history for a while now, this new technology would enable a lender to learn about the potential borrower’s online shopping data based upon their score. There is a great possibility that China could reward its citizens a higher score for buying products that the regime likes, say products that have been made by companies that knowingly endorse the government, while punishing the citizen and give them a lower score for buying products the regime does not like, like guns or video games. The things they choose to buy could determine the score they can attain, which could then determine the opportunities they have in the future.

This technology also has the ability to control who the individual wants their friends to be. The country could decide to implement that if your friends do something wrong, your own score lowers. If the individual does something that the regime considers “wrong,” friends and family may choose to no longer associate with this person in the fear of their score lowering and being allowed less access to things. Essentially, this system would thwart out any creative thinking or divergent thinking from the general mass, especially those of which that stand in opposition to the government.

The new system is already starting to be implemented. As of right now, there are 176 million cameras in China that watch citizens’ movements, but it is expected that by 2020 there will be 450 million installed. In addition, 100% of Beijing is currently blanketed by surveillance cameras, according to the Beijing Public Safety Bureau [1]. These surveillance cameras can detect someone’s face who is jaywalking across a street and alert local authorities who could show up to the person’s apartment to detain them later that day; that’s how powerful this technology is.

In news closer to home, an app had been developed in the United States in November 2015 named Peeple that had a similar feel in that citizens were rated by their peers and given a score based upon personal, professional, and dating areas. Not only could you rate people, but you could also comment positive and negative reviews on the person’s profile for them to see. The app was immediately taken off the market after public backlash; however, not before it was valued at $7.6 million.

China pioneering this new type of technology could revolutionize the way countries handle catching criminals. In that aspect, I believe that it could be very effective. Having so many surveillance cameras could no doubt help to solve the crimes of murders and robbery. However, for other crimes such as jaywalking, I do not think the police should worry so much about that as to not waste time that could be spent on more trivial matters. In terms of China using this as a means to control what their citizens think and say about the government, I find it incredibly unethical. It is a very convenient way for them to selectively breed out critical, independent thinking that is different from what the regime wants. It is uncertain when exactly this new system will be in place but I think it would be very smart for the United States to keep an eye out for what is happening in Chinese technologies.

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Marriott Courts Chinese Tourists with New Alibaba Partnership

Working in a Marriott Hotel in Pittsburgh as an intern, my role is a lot of the times made up on the fly.  I look for opportunities where I can create value for the hotel and then pursue those opportunities until I uncover the value I was looking for.  This has been the case in a number of endeavors, including associate training, inventory management, and collaboration with local partners.  The latter has been extremely successful, with partners like SkyVue Apartments and Idea Foundry looking to our hotel for their event and promotion needs.

In my pursuit of Idea Foundry, a Pittsburgh startup focusing on the growing Chinese tourist and entrepreneurial traveler market through traveler and business facilitation, I had no idea that a larger deal concerning Marriott International and China’s Alibaba was in the works.  The partnership, announced August 8th of 2017, would allow Chinese consumers to utilize Alibaba’s various applications and services at all 6,000 Marriott hotels worldwide.  With over 500 million users that Alibaba’s services, Marriott essentially tapped into the Amazon of China, securing hundreds of millions of Chinese tourist trips who now have more of an incentive than ever to stay at Marriott hotels.

The gist of the deal is this: Alibaba will showcase Marriott hotels on its travel app Fliggy and develop content, deals, and promotions exclusive to Marriott International hotels[1].  This means that Alibaba will act like any number of other travel applications like Expedia or Priceline but one which only uses Marriott hotels, making it a very exclusive deal for Marriott.  

Alibaba will also allow users to pay for hotel stays and other services/amenities using its Venmo/PayPal like app, Alipay.  These synergies allow both companies to leverage huge potential in areas where they initially were not the strongest: For Alibaba, it is boosting its travel services to compete with more established market players, and for Marriott, it is capturing the 122 million Chinese outbound tourist market, which spent more than $109.8 billion in 2016 (and growing)[2].

Marriott’s exclusive deal with Alibaba is a huge win; the travel company can now leverage its new presence and exclusive market in China with a slew of other recent developments all over the world.  These developments include Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, a hotel company with over 1,200 hotel including the Sheraton, Westin, and St. Regis brands, which increased its presence in China tremendously.  Chinese travelers using Alibaba applications and services now have even more incentives to become “brand loyal” to Marriott, given how many choices Marriott now offers to Chinese consumers (with nearly 30 brands in its portfolio since the Starwood acquisition).  Marriott has also been working on a number of mobile and technology features, including digital room-key access, in-room mobile guest requests, and the “Moments” programs (where guests can purchase additional experiences like concerts and museum visits alongside hotel accommodations).[3]  With Alibaba’s technical expertise on the e-commerce side, there is a natural fit between the two companies in these endeavors, especially if Marriot can increase these offerings to, potentially, hundreds of millions of travelers.

The biggest case for this partnership is the combination of the Chinese tourist market (which is set to grow to 700 million trips over the next 5 years)[4], and the technological competition between hotel chains. Hilton Worldwide recently upped the ante with an Amazon partnership, allowing guests to use Hilton Honors points to purchase anything on Amazon’s e-commerce site. This is a part of Hilton’s overall strategy on becoming more technologically competitive with the likes of Marriott, offering just as many perks, such as, mobile check-in and digital room-key access that Marriott does.

However, what sets Marriott apart in this endeavor is the focus on globalization that some of the other brands just do not have. I think Marriott sees the future of travel as a more global endeavor. Rather than doubling down on the more established American and European markets, offering discounts and perks to those travelers, Marriott’s focus on more emerging (and often more lucrative) markets in Southeast Asia and other places will surely be more beneficial in the long run. These markets show greater potential for long-term growth, and locking down that growth ensures future longevity.

Turning back to my deal with Idea Foundry, the company that facilitates Chinese business and pleasure travel to Pittsburgh, I was of course ecstatic that my larger parent company and I had similar ideas about the future of travel.  Moreover, I’m hoping to leverage the larger Marriott and Alibaba partnership to create value (and profit) for our small hotel, which is all I ever wanted to do in the first place.