PITTSBURG — Your morning coffee may give you energy to start your work day, but new research from a team at Pittsburg State University shows that coffee has the potential to generate another kind of energy beyond the point where most people would have tossed the grounds in the garbage.

As an exchange student from South Korea at PSU, Jonghyun Choi led research into a new method of turning used coffee grounds into energy.

After returning to South Korea, on Monday Choi was back at PSU — where he will soon begin work on a graduate degree — to discuss his research. Basically his work involves a chemical process than can turn waste coffee into “nitrogen-doped” carbon, which can then be used to generate energy that can be stored in a supercapacitor, which serves a similar function to a battery.

An explanation of Choi’s work in greater detail and depth can be found in the article “Waste Coffee Management: Deriving High-Performance Supercapacitors Using Nitrogen-Doped Coffee-Derived Carbon,” published last week in an international, peer-reviewed academic journal, of which Choi was the lead author.

PSU Associate Professor Dr. Ram Gupta, who has also been closely involved in the research, said the original idea came from the fact that so many people drink coffee and do nothing with the used grounds besides throwing them away.

Right now, the research is in its early stages, and the supercapacitors that can be charged using carbon derived from coffee are not as powerful as what Choi, Gupta and others involved in the research hope to eventually develop.

“But our ultimate aim is to make car batteries,” Gupta said, “so that you can run your car using coffee waste materials.”

Large companies that generate a lot of waste coffee, such as major coffee shop chains, could become providers of a previously untapped source of energy, Gupta said.

Choi said that charging supercapacitors using his waste coffee process is more eco-friendly than some other forms of energy production. “So I hope my battery will be used widely,” he said.

Choi and Gupta’s research was done at the Kansas Polymer Research Center (KPRC) at PSU. Tim Dawsey, the center’s executive director, discussed where their work fits into the broader mission of the KPRC.

“This facility was built, basically, and is best known for our bio-based polymer research,” Dawsey said. “Now, we do a lot more than bio-based polymers. We do, obviously, electroactive materials here, and Professor Gupta has really brought that talent to us and that expertise around electroactive polymers. But what we do is we do industrially relevant research here.”

Dawsey added that the KPRC works to leverage its location within an agricultural economy to provide career opportunities for PSU students, whether they go on to work in the plastics industry, in energy production, recycling, or any number of other fields.

“They work from coast to coast, they’re recruited all over,” Dawsey said. “Great salaries — and not just great salaries, great careers — I mean there are opportunities for growth and for impact.”