Mike Stevens | Feb 26, 2009

The economic concept of ‘opportunity cost’ is one that was never more relevant than in these hard times.

It essentially says that the scarcity of resources necessitates a choice.

If it takes an egg to make a cake or a pie, you cannot have the cake and eat the pie as well. If you have one, you must forgo the pleasure of the other. The ‘opportunity cost’ of eating the pie is therefore the cake you gave up.

Quite simple really. When we lecture someone (or are lectured by others) about conserving water, gas, trees, air, and so on, we are starting from the premise that using it has a high (and increasing) opportunity cost.

If you fill up that 95 litre tank in your ML63 AMG, it would give you a range of 575kms. An automatic Mazda 2 however, which is admittedly not a ‘rival’ in any real sense of the word, would give you in the vicinity of 1250kms for the same amount of fuel.

So the AMG has a higher opportunity cost.

Ok, enough of this mundane talk! Let’s get down to business.

free-lunch

The reason I bring up the concept of opportunity cost is to make the idea of getting a ‘free lunch’ all the more impactful.

Getting something for nothing is always a little special. It negates having to make tough choices in a tough world.

And in this, take heart. Because recently one bit of news surfaced in this hard cruel world that has given me a glimmer of hope. It is in fact so potentially stirring that I feel it incumbent upon me to spread the news and ‘re-inspire’ faith in all that is good.

According to The Economist magazine, researchers in the US at the University of Nevada have discovered how to extract diesel from coffee.

Now if it were the greenberry itself – the coffee bean - that was producing the diesel I suspect that these researchers, as righteous coffee worshippers, would have quickly and quietly hushed up the results.

But here is the clincher.

As opposed to the difficult choices we must make between food and biofuel (when the biofuel is extracted from food crops), here it is the used coffee grounds that makes the diesel.

Almost nil ‘opportunity cost’.

And if that were not good enough for you, the fuel, upon burning, actually emits a coffee-like aroma to boot. (I mean to say, my God... how much good news can we bear?)

coffee-beans

Now, for me, while there has never been any doubt that coffee is God’s drink of choice and thus deserves unquestioned reverence, there has always been the pall of suspicion hanging around diesel. Diesel would surely be the fuel that God puts up with rather reluctantly, springing for 98 RON for His own set of wheels.

However, maybe that is changing.

With the recent and rapid rise of forced-induction engines and a more willing adoption of diesel engines by key manufacturers (even for race cars), diesel’s reputation is now very nearly on equal footing with petrol.

And there are some mighty fine diesel cars out there. The 3.0 litre diesel engines in Audis and BMWs in their various forms are all rather fine propositions (though I am more than a little miffed that we still do not get BMW’s finest offerings here – the 335d and the 123d).

But we do get torque-monsters like the Touareg R50. And while it may not quite be in the same league as the ML63 AMG, it’s not all that far off either.

And if it ever smells like coffee, VW would need a restraining order to keep me away from the showroom.

Prateek is a Lecturer at the Deakin Business School in Melbourne

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