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Today’s Espresso, Tomorrow’s Expressway

Monday, May 9, 2016

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Coffee may already power a lot of engineers and construction crews, but some Australian researchers are looking at the brown stuff as a potential building material for roads, too.

Professor Arul Arulrajah, of Swinburne University of Technology's Centre for Sustainable Infrastructure, says he’s come up with a formula for mixing coffee grounds with slag to create a material that could be used as a subgrade in road building.

In a paper recently published in Construction and Building Materials, Arulrajah and his co-authors argue that their “research findings have the potential to transform the construction industry in the sustainable usage of waste by-products in future road subgrades.”

Arul Arulrajah and Teck-Ang Kua
Swinburne University of Technology

The formula Arulrajah and Kua came up with involves a mix of seven parts coffee grounds to three parts slag.

From Cafe to Lab

Arulrajah, who has worked in the past on the use of recycled materials in road construction, says he was inspired to consider the material when he observed baristas throwing out grounds at the coffeeshops he frequented. He says he thought: “Why not look at this as an engineering material?”

The formula Arulrajah and Ph.D. student Teck-Ang Kua came up with involves a mix of seven parts coffee grounds to three parts slag. They collect the grounds from coffeeshops near campus, dry them out and mix into the building formula.

The dry mixture is then combined with a liquid alkaline solution to create cylindrical blocks. “This green geopolymer comprising essentially of waste materials was found to be viable as a stabilized subgrade material,” the researchers state in their new paper.

Reducing Waste

Don’t expect a cross-country superhighway to be built completely of java, of course. It takes a lot of coffee grounds to build a road. Still, the point, from Arulrajah’s perspective, is cutting down on the use of new materials—and reusing something we were otherwise going to throw away.

“We estimate that the coffee grounds from Melbourne’s cafés could be used to build five kilometers of road per year,” Arulrajah said. “This would reduce landfill and the demand for virgin quarry materials."

And next time you stop at a café, you’ll worry less about shelling out a few dollars for a latte if you know the waste is going to a new road instead of a landfill.


Tagged categories: concrete; Green building; Roads/Highways

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/12/2016, 12:33 PM)

Ridiculous. Tremendous effort would be needed to collect that many grounds form hundreds of coffee shops, energy spent to drive them around, dry them out and compress them (before they go moldy, so you must do this daily) and you end up with a much less durable base (Unlike coffee grounds, rock doesn't rot and doesn't swell when it gets wet) and you have much better potential uses for the grounds, such as composting to enrich the soil.

Comment from B Brown, (5/19/2016, 10:12 PM)

Does anyone consider how much green house gas, the stuff we we were told is causing global warming will be require to put this minor quantity of waste to use? By the way, global warming is a farce but climate change is something that has occurred repeatedly thoughout history and has been very well documented repeatedly in archeological and geological studies. I am thinking we need a thumbs down DISLIKE button for this nonsense. Now if the good doctor, surviving on his government grant research money came up with a road base or other use for the plastic that fills greater than 50% of my refuse bin each week we might pave several thousand kilometers per year with refuse from the same community.

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