News Feature | October 11, 2016

A New Use For Coffee Grounds: Removing Lead From Water

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

There is a new use for coffee and it does not involve drinking it. It turns out that there may be a way for coffee grounds to clean lead-contaminated water.

According to Takepart, the discovery could give residents who are dealing with harmful heavy metals in their water systems cheap and sustainable access to safer drinking water.

Scientist Despina Fragouli and her colleagues at the Italian Institute of Technology found that mixing spent coffee grounds with a silicone product created a rubbery foam that is capable of separating out lead and mercury from water, according to a study published in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

Other studies have shown that coffee in powder form can be used to extract metals from water, but often require the use of synthetic materials to do so.

“The proposed method is cheaper and more sustainable compared to other systems where synthetic materials are used,” Fragouli told Takepart.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an estimated 4 million households in the country with children that are being exposed to high levels of lead.

Fragouli’s team was able to turn espresso coffee grounds into a powder, mixing it with silicone and sugar, and then baking it to create brown foam blocks that act as water filters.

The study reported that in still water, the foam removed 99 percent of lead and mercury traces. When the water flowed through the foam, it removed 67 percent of lead.

Fragouli added that the findings were surprising, as the foam blocks tested were natural products made up of 60 to 70 percent recycled coffee grounds, which are biodegradable.

“The efficiency of the coffee was preserved,” Fragouli said. “In this way, the porous composites can be safely and easily utilized and disposed of, making possible large-scale utilization.”

Fragouli added that she sees the foam blocks “being installed at industrial water sites and urban wastewater processing plants.”

“We are investigating if we can arrive to the acceptable limits for lead and mercury for drinkable water,” Fragouli said. “In order to arrive to a commercial product, we need to make further studies based on the exact application on which this material can be used.”

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Contaminant Removal Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Coffee Grounds, August 29, 2006" Tom Ray © 2006 used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: