Coffee Time? Ensuring Clean Water Through Coffee Grounds

Scientific breakthroughs and the pursuit of innovation are often the result of inspiration, testing, refining and many long, late hours of drinking coffee. Bold thinking and commitment have led a lab at the Italian Institute of Technology to a brilliant and cost-effective new concept for removing hazardous metals from water and we think they have grounds to be very excited.

Last year, worldwide coffee consumption weighed in at nearly 10 million tons. Putting that into greater perspective, that amount of coffee would represent approximately one and a half Great Pyramids worth of coffee beans ground up to satiate the caffeine dreams of people around the globe.

The scientists and researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology want to repurpose those remnant grounds to benefit people everywhere. Let that thought percolate for a moment.

The research team has engineered a coffee grounds-infused foam that is capable of removing hazardous metals, like lead, from water.

This process is still in the prototype phase, but the ramifications are huge…this new foam is promising, and if it works as predicted it might be able to clear the worst levels of lead contamination found in places like Flint, Michigan within a few hours.

The proposed method would be an economic boon because it principally uses costless waste product, making it much more sustainable in the long term when compared to synthetic materials.

The concept involved in the process isn’t a new one. Scientists have been aware for years that coffee contains chemical groups known as carboxylates that adhere to metals. The team at the Italian Institute of Technology’s breakthrough came when they chemically infused the coffee in a powdered form into an elastic foam. In its final form the spongy foam is 60 to 70 percent coffee by weight.

The scientists at the Italian Institute of Technology found that the foam trapped both the coffee and heavy metal ions. This could be a breakthrough of substantial proportion because once the the foam is applied, it would merely have to be removed from the water to take out the metal toxins. The rate of removal would depend on how much lead is in the water. For example, if the team started with water containing nine parts per million (ppm) of lead, that’s 360 times higher than the most common amount found during the Flint water crisis. The foam could remove a third of the contamination in 30 minutes.

This process is still in its earliest stages. Many years of research and extensive testing lie ahead, but a breakthrough like this is significant and the potential is enormous. At PeopleService it’s our job to know about trends and developments in the water industry and we are always looking for cost effective methods and solutions to benefit our clients. So, let’s raise a freshly brewed cup of coffee in honor of the team at the Italian Institute of Technology, and wish them good luck as their research continues, because their breakthrough could be a boon to water treatment facilities everywhere.