Hurricane Strength Coffee

A company in Colombia is making a building material for modular houses out of coffee husks and recycled plastic.



LONG BEFORE STARBUCKS BECAME A FIXTURE in college towns across the country, I had my first French Roast experience while studying at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. That experience included both the French Roast coffee and a Neapolitan coffee maker—similar to a stove top espresso maker but one that required inverting when the water hit the boiling point. The owner of the little coffee shop said, “Pack it full of coffee grounds so you can enjoy it hurricane strength.” Which I did, and this became my go-to single cup coffee maker. A few decades later and I’m still one who cannot imagine a morning without coffee. Sometimes the fresh scent of French Roast still takes me back to that spot on Higuerra Street and the instructions for hurricane strength.

Hurricanes have a closer relationship to coffee than I realized from those early instructions. Many coffee growing regions are in areas impacted by seasonal hurricanes or typhoons, and with climate change the frequency of harvest-destroying storms is likely to increase. Rising temperatures also can cause the berries to ripen too fast and promote coffee leaf disease, further challenging the growers.

in my world, coffee is the solution to a lot of problems

So it was not a surprise that a company in Colombia — the third largest coffee producing nation — is making a building material for modular houses out of coffee husks and recycled plastic. The company began developing this solution a decade ago, but it was Category 5 Hurricane Iota and the 1,300 homes it destroyed in November 2020 on the island of Providence that created an urgent need.

The company, Woodpecker, produces a wood plastic composite (WPC) material that is light and durable, as well as being fireproof and insect resistant. Woodpecker reported testing many different types of natural fibers, including rice, grass and palm fiber but, “coffee husk was selected because it’s stronger and drier than the other fibers,” according to company CEO, Alejandro Franco. Putting the coffee husks to work keeps them out of the waste stream where they release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

When you’re enjoying that cup of coffee tomorrow morning, remember that coffee can be strong in multiple ways.

The global coffee industry is paying attention to the impacts of climate change and some market leaders are taking action. In the Winter issue of Technology Designer Magazine, we take a look at what Starbucks is doing with a “green construction technology company building a vibrant future for people and the planet.” (See article here.)

At the Starbucks December 2020 biennial investor day, the company announced its 2030 environmental goals to cut its carbon, water and waste footprints by half. One initiative is a sustainably built Starbucks café in a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia constructed by Canadian green construction technology company, Nexii Building Solutions Inc. This new café was built using Nexii’s proprietary green construction technology, which is designed to reduce the store’s carbon emissions by approximately 30 percent. While Nexii is initially focused on the commercial market, its model has applications for residential construction as well.

I’ll take my coffee with a shot of sustainability please.

March 2021 News