With the potential hidden within our daily coffee routine, the University of Colorado has unveiled a remarkable study that combines coffee grounds with 3D printing technology to create a range of sustainable products. This revolutionary approach can potentially reshape the world of 3D printing and provide eco-conscious solutions for everyday items.
Assistant professor of computer science, Michael Rivera, along with a team of colleagues, embarked on this innovative endeavor. They mixed coffee grounds with powdered cellulose, xanthan gums, and water, creating a compostable, food-safe paste suitable for 3D printing. This paste can be molded into various objects, including plant pots and single-use espresso cups. One of the key advantages of this new material is its biodegradability. Plant pots made from this coffee-based substance can be planted directly into the ground, and when they are no longer needed, they can be recycled. This creates a sustainable cycle where 3D-printed objects can be transformed back into powder and reused for new creations.
Rivera enthusiastically shared, “You can make a lot of things with coffee grounds. And when you don’t want it anymore, you can throw it back into a coffee grinder and use the grounds to print again.”This exciting research has been published in the journal “Proceedings of the 2023 ACM Designing Interactive Systems Conference.” While others have explored innovative uses for coffee grounds, such as in sneakers and other products, the University of Colorado’s study marks the first known instance of combining coffee waste with 3D printing technology. The fusion of technology and food waste holds the promise of benefiting the planet in multiple ways. Firstly, it can contribute to reducing the energy and waste associated with certain 3D printing methods, offering a sustainable alternative to traditional plastics that often release harmful toxins into the environment. Additionally, coffee grounds, when left to decompose in landfills, release methane, a potent greenhouse gas that significantly contributes to global warming. Rivera’s research, inspired by the sight of coffee ground waste accumulating during the COVID-19 pandemic, seeks to make 3D printing more sustainable across various industries. Explaining the environmental impact of conventional 3D printing materials, Rivera emphasized, “If you throw [polylactic acid (PLA)] in a landfill, which is where the majority of PLA ends up, it will take up to 1,000 years to decompose.”
With this pioneering technology, Rivera envisions a future where individuals can easily acquire sustainable materials and engage in 3D printing to create everyday items, revolutionizing the way we think about waste and its potential to be transformed into valuable products. This innovative study not only opens new horizons for sustainability but also underscores the power of reimagining waste as a resource for a more eco-conscious future.
Story by Susan Elizabeth Turek. First-of-its-kind study combines common household waste product with 3D printing — here are the results.