Coffee grounds that were originally supposed to end up in a landfill are transformed into a 3D printing material.

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Brewing Up Innovation: Coffee Grounds Revolutionize 3D Printing

Last month, we witnessed how discarded coffee grounds could strengthen concrete structures. Now, recent research reveals an even more remarkable application for these otherwise unwanted grounds – they can be used to 3D-print plant pots, single-use cups, and much more. The revolutionary idea first sparked in the mind of Michael Rivera, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Colorado Boulder, when he noticed his favorite café tossing away used coffee grounds. Together with his colleagues, he set out to develop a solution.

Their breakthrough involved creating a paste by combining dried coffee grounds with powdered cellulose and xanthan gums, all of which are food-safe and compostable. Rivera’s team ingeniously adapted an existing 3D printer to accommodate a syringe filled with the coffee-based paste, with plastic tubing facilitating the delivery to the build plate. With this modified setup, they successfully printed various objects, including plant pots, jewelry pieces, and even disposable espresso cups. Adding activated charcoal to the mix granted the material electrical conductivity.

Once the printed paste hardens, it reportedly possesses a resilience similar to unreinforced concrete. Remarkably, if an item made from this material breaks or becomes unwanted, it can be easily ground back into powder to produce new objects. Moreover, when these objects reach the end of their lifecycle, they can biodegrade when placed in the ground. Consequently, plant pots crafted from the substance can nurture seedlings like tomatoes until they grow tall enough, at which point the pots can be directly planted in the soil while still accommodating the plants.

The research findings, detailed in a paper recently published in the Proceedings of the 2023 ACM Designing Interactive Systems Conference, hold tremendous promise. Additionally, waste coffee grounds offer several other potential applications, such as becoming a carbon capture material, an ingredient in biofuel production, and filters for sewage gas.

It is heartening to witness how an overlooked waste product can be transformed into a valuable resource. The innovative use of coffee grounds in 3D printing not only showcases the creative thinking of researchers but also highlights the potential of sustainable solutions. As we continue to seek ways to reduce waste and maximize the value of our resources, innovations like these provide a glimpse into a future where environmental consciousness and technological advancements go hand in hand.

Source: University of Colorado Boulder

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