Brewing innovation

Students pose together after presenting to Nestle research and development

Partnership with global food and beverage company gives students hands-on research opportunities

When coffee lovers think about a sustainable cup, they may consider the origins of the beans or the container in which it is served. But what about waste produced by the brewing process? 

For two students at Case Western Reserve University, used coffee grounds represent a unique opportunity to explore more eco-friendly alternatives to a chemical compound used in everything from ice cream to toothpaste—all while getting real-world research experience alongside industry professionals.

First-year engineering student Sneha Suresh and third-year macromolecular engineering graduate student Brittany Roopnarine were one of one of two winning teams in the inaugural Nestlé Research and Development–CWRU Innovation Challenge in January, earning critical seed funding and research support from Nestlé. 

Faculty members introduced Suresh and Roopnarine to the program, then, along with Nestlé staff, guided the duo on their semester-long project into whether coffee grounds can be repurposed as a thickener and emulsifier in various food and cosmetic products. The two isolated a sugar polymer from the grounds; now the work begins to classify what it is and how it can be modified, said Roopnarine.

“It has been great hearing advice and ideas from industry professionals, as well as researchers here at CWRU,” Suresh said.

Part of the “Nestlé Needs You” program, which aims to engage more than half a million people by 2025, the competition adds to Case Western Reserve’s long history of collaborating with local industry to provide students with experiential-learning opportunities.

“Our partnership with Case Western Reserve University is part of Nestlé’s commitment to empowering the next generation to thrive and make their impact,” said Jennifer Paine, head of the Nestlé Research and Development Unit in Solon, Ohio. “As a global food and beverage company with a large presence right here in Northeast Ohio, it’s particularly critical to us that we nurture the future of entrepreneurship in our industry.”

It also strengthens the recruitment pipeline from Case Western Reserve University into Cleveland’s business landscape.

“Nestlé’s investment in ‘homegrown innovation’ through higher education aligns with Case Western Reserve’s mission of improving lives through dynamic research,” said Drew Poppleton, director of Post-Graduate Planning and Experiential Education at CWRU. “This partnership takes students beyond the standard curriculum and gives them an opportunity to apply skills they are learning in the classroom with the help of industry experts.”

Student gives a presentation to the Nestle research and development team

Originally published in the summer 2023 issue of Forward Thinking magazine