Your morning cup o’ joe may never be the same, thanks to local biocomposite material designer c2renew. This morning at 1 Million Cups, c2renew co-founder Corey Kratcha released their first self-produced product: a renewable coffee cup made from coffee.
“Coffee has had a lot of great innovation, but the cup has never changed,” Kratcha said. “We’re taking something that would be destined for the landfill, and creating something unique with it.
What makes the c2renew renewable coffee cup renewable?
The c2renew renewable coffee cup is made using biocomposites from coffee chaff – the hull of a coffee bean. Those biocomposites are then used to create filament, which is then used to 3D print the cup. Currently, they have successfully printed one renewable coffee cup, which Kratcha was drinking from during his presentation before announcing what it was to the audience.
The cup also has a metal insert which can be thrown into the dishwasher. In their second model, Kratcha said, that insert will also be bio-based.
Inspiration for the idea struck on Kratcha’s hour-long commute to work, from Breckenridge to their offices at the NDSU Incuabtor. He and co-founder Chad Ulven, an associate professor of Mechanical Engineering at NDSU, already work to create a myriad of nifty products through c2renew; they’re working with Bogo Brush to create 100% biodegradable toothbrushes, and Earth Kind to create all-natural pest repellant for example. But they had never considered the possibility of creating their own product.
“If we can help other folks design and develop, and get a seamless process, why don’t we try it ourselves?” Kratcha thought as he drove. “Then we can show what we’re capable of creating.”
Recent work with a coffee company and Kratcha’s own affinity for the drink suddenly came together, and one night a few months ago, at 7 PM, he called up Ulven with the exciting proposition. Ulven, also an “avid coffee drinker” according to Kratcha, was equally enthused.
“The reason why we’re showing the cup is to say hey, we can make really cool stuff,” Kratcha said.
Because ultimately, this renewable coffee cup is just a small attention-grabber for the work c2renew is doing here in our backyard.
What is c2renew?
C2renew, which was licensed in 2011 by Ulven and Kratcha, is currently creating custom formulated biocomposite alternatives to petroleum based plastic.
They work with commercial industries – creating custom moldings for pieces you’d find under the hood of lawn mowers and tractors, for instance – and they work with smaller, consumer businesses to make products like eco-friendly toothbrushes, pest-repellant, and air freshener.
They are currently the only custom compounder in the state of North Dakota.
“We’re a lower cost alternative to plastic because we’re offsetting about 40% of that petroleum in the resin,” Kratcha explained. “And we engineer the material to match whatever the specifications the customer has.”
In addition to coffee chaff, they use a multitude of agricultural inputs to create residuals and renewable plastic; from flax fiber, to soybean hull, to sugar beet pulp.
“The market is still very early, biocomposites are still very early in what we’re doing,” Kratcha said. “But we’re expanding. There’s sort of a pull for customers looking for green.”
For Ulven, researching biocomposites has been his life’s passion. He had over 8 years of research when Kratcha cold-called him one day, looking for help with light-weighting products for an old company he was working for.
“We quickly realized that idea was a bust,” Kratcha said at 1 Million Cups. But when he saw the value in Ulven’s biocomposite research, he knew they could turn this into something more. C2Renew was born – named after the simple fact that they both had names that start with “C” (hence, 2 C’s. C2Renew.)
Last summer, c2renew joined with six other North Dakota companies to pitch a new mission to the Agricultural Products Utilization Commission (APUC) of North Dakota. Together – Bogo Brush, Earth Kind, ComDel Innovation, Fargo Brewing Company, Melet Plastics, Fargo 3D Printing, and c2renew – expressed their commitment to building a bio-economy in North Dakota. Each of these companies can help the other in creating new material, a new market, and new products.
They were awarded the biggest APUC grant every given by the state.
“It’s similar to the UAS industry, although there are a lot of people excited about that,” Kratcha said. “Unfortunately there’s only a small segment of folks working on bio-based. So we want to kick-start that and set the table for some innovation projects we’re working on.”
One of the biggest projects c2renew is working on is their spin-off company called C2Sensor; but that project deserves its own article. In a few words, they’re currently creating biodegradable chips that can be used with precision agriculture. (Oooh!) To be continued…
As for others doing similar work, Kratcha and Ulven don’t see it as competition. Instead, they see it as a collaborative effort to validate the bio-based market. For them, things can start here, now, with c2renew.
“Both of us want to build a legacy company here in North Dakota,” Ulven said. “My passion was to take my research, and spin it out to create value agriculture for North Dakota, create jobs for students, and be good stewards for agriculture here in North Dakota.”
Sometimes, that can start with something as simple as a coffee cup.
Interested in owning your own coffee cup made from coffee? A kickstarter for the renewable coffee cup will be launched on February 16.
We’ll be posting the link, so be sure to follow us on Twitter @emergingprairie or Facebook.
[Update 3/27/15]: C2Renew did not meet its Kickstarter goal of $75,000 by the deadline, so they did not receive any funds from the campaign. However, Kratcha expressed that this does not mean they will not move forward. “We’re still going to make the cup,” he said. “Just not in the quantities we were thinking.” The cup was recently featured in Food and Wine, and the C2Renew team says they are talking with major coffee companies to get this cup on the shelves.
Photos courtesy of Marisa Jackels.