UBC researcher develops a better compostable coffee pod

Source: vancouversun.com

A made-in-B.C. solution to single use coffee pod waste is drawing global attention from coffee producers

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Zachary Hudson, 34, an assistant professor at UBC and Canada Research Chair in sustainable chemistry, is hoping to make the world a better place one cup of coffee at a time.

Although he doesn’t drink the stuff himself, Hudson has spent the last few years perfecting a compostable coffee pod.

“About 40 billion single-use coffee pods are disposed of every year and end up in landfills,” said Hudson. Despite drawing consumer backlash, the single-use global coffee pod industry is expected to reach US$29.2 billion by 2025, according to market reports.

Hudson seized the challenge — and may just have struck gold. After three years of research on behalf of B.C.-based company Nexe Innovations, he has developed a compostable coffee pod that is suitable both for mass manufacturing and municipal composting.

The pod has an outer capsule created from moulded bamboo fibre, with an ultra thin biodegradable lining made out of corn-derived polylactic acid, a biodegradable material that breaks down into carbon dioxide, water and organic biomass. The seal on each pod is made of paper.


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“Our company’s mission is to create a product with absolutely no microplastics and no eco-toxicity when it breaks down,” said Hudson. “We’ve validated that through scientific studies at UBC and we’ve grown vegetable gardens in soil containing compost from our products.”

The pods also do exactly what plastic pods do: They seal out air and moisture, giving the product a long shelf-life, and they break down fully within 35 days in municipal compost.

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Hudson said that while he can’t claim to be the only producer of biodegradable K-cups in the world, most so-called biodegradable alternatives are embedded with micro plastics that remain after decomposition. In addition, many biodegradable coffee pods rely on a soft mesh bottom that doesn’t provide a barrier to air and moisture, affecting its shelf life, and allowing coffee to go stale.

Hudson’s bamboo-based pods are only slightly more expensive to produce, he said, and Keurig K-Cup compatible pods are already available through Nexe’s in-house brand Xoma.ca. By 2021, Xoma will have Nespresso compatible pods available.

Hudson said company has been fielding inquiries from major coffee producers around the globe who want interested in their proprietary pod. “If we could make a billion of these a year, we would sell them all.”

Nexe is currently retooling its factory in Surrey for mass production. “We will be scaling up to a few 100,000 units in the next few months, and our goal is to be producing hundreds of millions of units a year by 2022,” said Hudson.


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And while Nexe Innovations is currently “laser focused on coffee pods,” they are also working on developing compostable, disposable face masks. “Right now more than 100 billion a month are thrown out, and they are all plastic,” said Hudson.

Hudson, who has added “chief science officer,” for Nexe Innovations to his CV, said he also hopes his story will inspire STEM students.

“My PhD is in organic electronics, in display technology for cellphones and television, but I hope to show my students that the skills you acquire in a research lab are applicable to a greater range of problems.”



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