Repurposing coffee to make concrete 30% stronger

Fareeha Arshad

Researchers in Australia have developed a new recipe for concrete that could make it 30% stronger by incorporating charred coffee grounds. This innovation not only addresses the issue of coffee waste but also contributes to sustainability in the construction industry.

Annually, the world generates a staggering 10 billion kilograms of coffee waste, much of which ends up in landfills, emitting greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide. To tackle this environmental challenge, scientists from RMIT University in Australia devised a solution that repurposes coffee grounds for concrete production.

The key challenge was that coffee grounds could not be directly added to concrete due to their chemical composition, which could weaken the material. To overcome this, the researchers employed a process called pyrolysis. They heated the coffee waste to over 350°C (around 660°F) in a low-oxygen environment, breaking down the organic molecules and producing a porous, carbon-rich charcoal known as biochar. This biochar can effectively bond with the cement matrix, becoming part of the concrete mixture.

While the study found that pyrolyzing coffee grounds at 500°C did not yield as strong biochar particles, the 350°C process showed promise. However, the long-term durability of the new concrete needs further evaluation. Researchers plan to conduct tests to assess its performance under various conditions, such as freeze/thaw cycles, water absorption, and abrasion resistance.

In addition to coffee waste, the team is exploring the creation of biochar from other organic waste sources, including wood, food waste, and agricultural waste. This research aims to find innovative ways to reduce the amount of organic waste in landfills.

The development aligns with a circular economy approach, which seeks to minimize waste and extend the life cycle of materials. By incorporating biochar from coffee grounds into concrete, this research not only strengthens the building material but also helps preserve natural resources like sand. Construction sand extraction has significant environmental impacts, including habitat disruption and resource depletion.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I mostly write about history and science.

Texas State

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