A Pollution-Detecting Espresso Machine Could Change Environmental Research

Many chemists are familiar with taking late-night trips to the espresso machine. These excursions were undertaken merely for the caffeine boost… until now! Recently, a group of scientists reported in the ACS journal Analytical Chemistry that espresso machines can be a low-cost alternative for testing for harmful compounds in the environment.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a class of carcinogenic organic compounds that are ubiquitous in the environment. They are generated by incomplete combustion of materials in forest fires, industrial plants, and waste incinerators. Current methods of determining the levels of PAHs in soil are time-consuming and require hazardous solvents or expensive equipment. An espresso machine quickly runs hot liquid through coffee, so Francesc A. Esteve-Turrillas and colleagues set out to determine whether using an espresso machine with soil (instead of coffee) could efficiently extract PAHs for further analysis. The group percolated a soil sample in an espresso machine with a small amount of organic solvent and water. The extracted sample was then analyzed via chromatography to determine the amount of PAHs present. It took just 11 seconds to complete the process. The results from the espresso procedure were comparable to those obtained with certified techniques, yet the coffee machine procedure is significantly faster and less expensive. The researchers concluded that espresso makers can be used as low-cost alternatives in chemistry labs. They are currently testing to see whether these machines can extract and analyze pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and detergents in food and environmental samples.

The researchers acknowledge funding from Spain’s Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and the Generalitat Valenciana (government of Valencia).

Read more about the research: “Hard Cap Espresso Machines in Analytical Chemistry: What Else?” Analytical Chemistry, 2016, 88(12), pp 6570–6576.