on November 6th, 2019

Could the used coffee grounds from your morning coffee have a second life? Melbournian engineers think so — they have found the perfect use for coffee waste. In the future, houses and roads may have traces of coffee in them.

Concrete contains up to 80% sand, which is one of the planet’s most used resources. However, the demand is so high that we will not have access to this resource forever. Plus, sand is often part of fragile ecosystems, and extracting it can have a significant impact on that environment.

RMIT University’s School of Engineering is working on reducing the need for sand in construction materials along with the amount of coffee waste that ends up in landfill. They suggest replacing up to 10% of the sand in concrete with used coffee grounds.

Senior lecturer at RMIT’s School of Engineering, Dr Srikanth Venkatesan, is at the helm of the research.

“The biggest challenge is ensuring the addition of spent coffee grinds does not lead to a reduction in strength of concrete, and this is the focus of further testing and development to make this product viable for use in real-world applications,” he said.

Bachelor of Engineering (Civil and Infrastructure) (Honours) students Senura Kohombange and Anthony Abiad also worked on the project.

“It seems fitting that we’re working on this project in Melbourne, a city known for its great coffee culture. We are very excited to present the project, share the idea with others, and showcase how some innovative thinking can turn a waste product into an everyday construction material,” said  Kohombange.

According to statistics generated in 2017, there are an estimated 2,600 cafes in the City of Melbourne producing approximately 156,000 kilograms of coffee-ground waste every month. The researchers have been baking the coffee grounds into ‘coffee bricks’ to test their rigidity.

The idea of putting used coffee grounds into construction materials is not particularly new. A handful of universities were playing with the idea in 2016, Swinburne University in Melbourne.  


Recycling is the word

As sustainable construction methods become the leading conversation in civil engineering circles, using recycled materials for building structures is becoming the norm.

Dubai Expo 2020 is on the horizon, and the United Nations is expected to have its own pavilion. The theme this year is: “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.”

Innovation and design firm CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati unveiled their Italian Pavilion is going to look like when it opens to the public on October 20th, 2020.

Source: italyexpo2020.it

With the theme in mind, their pavilion's skywalk will be integrating orange peels, coffee grounds, mycelium, and recycled plastics extracted from the ocean in their construction materials.

“Italy brings an Innovation Hub to Expo 2020,” Paolo Glistenti, General Commissioner for Italy at Expo Dubai 2020, said.

“A pavilion with an innovative structure, inspired by the most advanced elements of sustainability and circular economy, which will not simply be an exhibition venue, but a demonstration of Italian competence and the best national talent.”

Civil and structural engineers are being called to integrate sustainable, recyclable materials into their operations to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions stay low, and ecosystems get preserved. The industry is having to confront a world that expects better practices and cleaner processes. How might you integrate something like used coffee grounds or other domestic waste products into your operations? It’s time to become innovative!


Works Cited

“From Coffee to Concrete: Engineering Solutions to Our Most Pressing Problems.” RMIT University, www.rmit.edu.au/news/all-news/2019/oct/engenius.

“The Italy Pavilion.” Italia Expo 2020 Dubai, italyexpo2020.it/en/the-project/the-italy-pavilion/.

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