Engineering Science & Technology

UVM Students Make Handicrafts Out of Coffee Husks


Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas

Through recycling coffee bean husks, students studying Mechatronics Engineering, Business Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies from Campus Tuxtla, UVM (Universidad del Valle de México) having been making a range of decorative handicraft accessories, such as pots, household items, pencil cases, pencils and pens among other little products.

Headed and directed by Silvia Patricia Selvas Perez, a professor at UVM, she founded MaderCaf, an organization that involved in environmentally-friendly projects in Chiapas. The company has rescued masses of discarded coffee husks and given them a second life by remodeling them into artesian goods and the possibility for industrial use.

Coffee husks being a substitute for wood

Studies at UVM have shown that coffee bean husks forms a versatile material emulating wood conglomerates, which has high flexural strength, as well as being shatter and fire resistant.

The MaderCaf “Construyendo la Innovación” (Innovation Building) project is now run by the entrepreneurs Armando Sánchez Luna, Sandra Grissel Reyes Vázquez and Adriana Díaz. The process involves grinding the shells and then mixing them with other ingredients into a concoction giving it a density which the project leaders believe is a worthy substitute for wood.

The scheme was presented at the Feria de Proyectos Emprendedores (Entrepreneurship Projects Fair) at Universidad del Valle de Mexico Campus Tuxtla, which enabled the entrepreneurs to make contact with both private and public sector companies, who took a great interest in the products made and with questions to how the material was obtained.

According to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) in Mexico, since 2011 the timber production industry accounts for 500,000 cubic meters of trees being chopped down, with pine trees seeing worst of the deforestation. “You can try to recycle wood by using pellets. However, it remains wood; trees that no longer provide us with oxygen. To replace wood as a raw material for furniture, household goods, construction, we can use materials that doesn’t pollute, nor requires a complicated process that damages the environment,” said Silvia Patricia Selvas Pérez.

The students and teachers were given the task of finding a material that could be used as a replacement. They then came across coffee bean shells. “In the coffee industry, the coffee plant most used is “Arabic”, which is grown at high altitude. The beans go through various processes, one of which includes threshing, which creates waste known as husks. Usually, the waste is burned and used for roasting the coffee beans, known as the drying process, but creates a lot of pollution.

“In other cases, it is used as fertilizer, thrown away, given away or even sold at a low cost. Coffee farmers have also found the waste a great hindrance. Not knowing how to get rid of it, they use bins to store it, which generates infrastructure and maintenance costs. The texture of coffee husks is similar to sawdust, so it becomes the best choice for a wood substitute,” added the teacher from UVM Campus Tuxtla, Silvia Patricia Selvas Pérez.

Coffee in Mexico

For Mexico, coffee is huge for the economy, with over 500,000 producers, covering 690,000 hectares (1 705 027 acres) in 12 states and 391 municipalities. It also makes $897 million a year in exports and is the world’s leading producer in organic coffee, creating employment directly or indirectly for three million people and makes 20 thousand million pesos (over one billion dollars) a year for the economy.

“The Chiapas region produces 34.8% of Mexico’s coffee, making it the nation’s biggest coffee producer. In Chiapas, coffee gives us identity and it is a tradition, from production and transformation process to commercialization, involving near one million chiapanecos (the local people from Chiapas), generating employment and revenue, and a major factor in the development of the 88 municipalities of the Chiapas state. Therefore, we are pleased to take advantage of the tons of coffee shell husks from the industry, as we have found a substitute for wood,” concluded Silvia Patricia Selvas Perez.

Finally, the project has been presented to various forums with great success, recognizing its philosophy to social responsibility and environmental protection, ensuring the welfare and development of coffee-producing communities in the region.

Have you been part of any recycling projects at your university? Feel free to share your experiences with us below.

For more information on MaderCaf, visit Clean Tech Challenge Mexico 2015 and the UVM blog. Also visit the UVM website to find out more about its Engineering degrees.

About the Author

Universidad del Valle de Mexico

Universidad del Valle de México is an institution that, in a comprehensive manner, educates with a balance between the approaches scientific-technological and ethical-cultural, chords with social needs, the search for the truth and the common good; based on its institutional philosophy and its educational model.