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Printing with coffee

Dutch start-up CaffeInk developed an environmentally friendly ink as an alternative to black ink made from fossil-based carbon black pigment.

Worldwide, coffee is the most consumed beverage, producing an enormous amount of waste in the form of coffee grounds. In the right hands, these coffee grounds are a valuable resource: they can be made into anything from dyeing pigments and bioplastic, to yarn and wallpaper. And now ink.

The idea sparked when the CaffeInk founders took a summer school together in which they had to come up with a sustainable product. Noticing the markers they used, the founders started researching how ink is made. Most black inks are made from carbon black pigment, which originates from the incomplete combustion of heavy petroleum products. Additionally, most carbon black is imported from Asian countries.

CaffeInk developed in close collaboration with Spaak Circular Solutions two semi-finished goods from coffee grounds: oil and colourants. The oil is mainly meant to use in food and cosmetics.

Because coffee grounds are already dark in colour, they do not have to be incinerated to obtain dark (almost black) colourants. Of course, because there are many types of coffee beans, many methods to roast beans, and many ways to make coffee, the start-up is still optimizing the process to obtain a consistently dark colourant.

The start-up is currently also testing the use of the colourants in printer ink, and printing packaging material and textiles.

In addition to saving CO2 emissions from using coffee grounds, because the ink can be produced locally, the transport costs and emissions are also considerably lower.

To obtain the coffee grounds to make the ink, the joint venture CaffeInk-Spaak works with producers of instant coffee, who have enormous amounts available. The start-up aims to build a biorefinery in which 20,000 tonnes of coffee grounds can be turned into 1,000 tonnes colourants annually. In late 2020, the company plans to set up a small production line.

Photos: Josephine Nijstad / Agalabs