WB 2015 – MSU Ecological Engineering in the Tropics

Costa Rica – MSU / UCR – December 26, 2015 – January 9, 2016

Jan. 4-5 – Danielle


Monday, January 4, 2016 – Alajuela

While we are staying in Alajuela again, we will be departing to Santa Maria de Dota to take a tour of the coffee cooperative there called Coopedota. The Los Santos region of Costa Rica, where Coopedota is found, has nearly perfect conditions for growing and processing coffee plants, allowing this co-op to produce award winning coffee and to be the first carbon neutral coffee producer in the world.

We will start our mourning touring the coffee farm and will later move on to touring the processing plant. Being that it is currently harvest season, this will be a great time for us to go and see the milling process and everything that comes after it.

More information on Coopedota can be found at the link(s) below:



Coffee beans that have not yet matured


Tuesday, January 5, 2016 – Alajuela

We will be returning to Fabio and the wetland to work on our team projects. Our group is divided up, based upon interest, into two projects. One group has been assigned to use the wetland at Fabio and design a process that makes harvesting the plant-life inside of it easier, quicker, and all around more efficient. When plants over-populate a wetland it makes the treatment process it is designed to do less effective. Right now, it takes an entire day to clean out the wetland of interest. Our team of students will find a way to lessen the harvest time to less than half of a day.

The other project that our students are partaking in is designing a system to remove harmful gases from an anaerobic digester. Right now, when the digester operates, many gases are released, including those that are responsible for making acid rain. The students will find a way to remove this specific gas, cleaning what is released from the digester so it can be utilized for other processes.

Want to learn a little more about the Fabio digester? Look here:



A map of Alajuela, where we will be staying these two days


The province of Alajuela can be seen below. Several of the cities we are visiting on this trip (including the city of Alajuela) are in this province. Alajuela is the second largest city in the country, and is also home to the airport that all of us from MSU flew into.

Fun fact: While Alajuela is now the capital of only Alajuela, it briefly served as the capital of Costa Rica many years ago.

More information about Alajuela can be found at:



Monday, January 4, 2016

Today we all started our morning off right as any American group would… with COFFEE! After a quick, but delicious, breakfast at our most frequented hotel, La Rosa, we boarded the bus and hit the road. Two hours later, we pulled up to the processing mill and were greeted with samples of their internationally famous Coopedota Coffee. Then the general manager gave us a presentation and question session before we took a walking tour. Our stops included the drying stations, the density sorting line, the oak wood storage room for premium coffee, and the farm.

At the farm, we were introduced to a few key differences between large-scale coffee production and and small organic plantations, such as the one we saw earlier this week at Café San Luis. Here, fertilizer is used with a specific nitrogen, potassium, and other mineral combination to ensure the most growth per plant, while retaining the delicious coffee flavor they strive for. They also use the pieces of the plants that they cut as a more natural fertilizer. In San Luis, the farm used composted coffee bean shells as their fertilizer, with no chemicals added at all. In both cases, some fruit is also grown nearby and the fallen biomass from the trees also supplies a natural fertilizer as the fruits break down. This, however, is more significant in San Luis because the owner will only grow his coffee under trees that provide shade, and he prefers to use fruit trees. This also provides the added benefit of holding nutrients in the soil using the root systems of the trees. In doing so, even less fertilizer is needed to grow the coffee. Coopedota does not follow this practice so closely, however they do plant a substantial number of their coffee bushes under trees to have this same effect.


Some of the coffee produced at Coopedota, including carbon neutral options. 

From a Biosystems and Sustainability stand-point, our group found it quite interesting that some of the Coopedota Co-op was the first carbon neutral coffee producer in the world by the PAS 2060 standard. This essentially means that they have no net release of carbon dioxide into the system at any point in the planting, harvesting, producing, or consuming processes. In recent years, they have been able to accomplish this by replacing 95% of the wood used to dry and roast their beans with the husks from old batches, reducing water from 3000 L per plant to 11 L per plant by recycling the water they do use, and encouraging the use of less fertilizer by using plant scraps when possible. For more information on the standard used to calculate carbon neutrality, please visit:





We took a short lunch break to get rice and beans at a quaint restaurant around the corner, and then went back to buy some delicious coffee products and baked goods to serve as our dessert. After a quick trip to a home improvement store to gather supplies for building our prototypes the next day, we then embarked on our journey back to the hotel where the students and faculty enjoyed a free evening to relax.

Tuesday, January  5, 2016

Another early morning and the students were off! We grabbed our supplies go build all of our 3 projects and began the short walk to the Fabio station. Right away, all ten students split off into our three groups and got to work.

Two groups were asked to design a way to harvest 1 square meter of plants from our surface flow wetland in less than 2 hours without going into the water. Two vastly different designs were constructed, but both came out well. Emily, Danielle, and Mercedes constructed a scoop of sorts that could reach approximately 3 meters into the wetland. At first there was concern of breaking, but a little bit of PVC glued fixed that. A singular person task, using their harvester became much easier to do without ever leaving the banks. Meanwhile, Dan, Connor and Katelyn developed a submersible plucking PVC platform that, when tossed into a wetland, will hook plants on the back and can then be pulled out by a rope. Their design worked very well for removing large quantities of plants quickly.

The first wetland group hard at work harvesting and measuring plants


The second wetland team and their prototype



The biodigester team


The third group was instructed to remove hydrogen sulfide from the output gas of the station’s anaerobic digester. To do so, Charlie, Lauren, Luis, and Alex utilized their chemistry courses and designed a path for the gas to take through a series of tanks and tubes filled with rust and other materials. When the gas makes it through the system they designed, most of the hydrogen sulfide has been removed.




Finally, our whole group got a chance to sit in on a presentation given by Dr. Reinhold about the anaerobic digestion system being put in place by Connor and several other MSU students and faculty in a Native community of Costa Rica. The biodigester team also got to listen to Dr. Liao present about his current project.

All in all, today was highly productive for all of the students and faculty. Many of the students were happy that they got to be a part of creating something new while we were here.

Coffee Farming Information provided by:

Ramirez, Victor. “El Cafetal Coffee Tour.” Monteverde. 31 Dec. 2015. Tour.

Mata, Roberto. “Coopedota Coffee Tour.” Santa Maria. 5 Jan. 2016. Tour.


6 thoughts on “Jan. 4-5 – Danielle

  1. What are the inputs and outputs of coffee production that affect its sustainability?


    • On our tour of Cafe San Luis today, we learned that the inputs of coffee vary based on the means of production and the farmer’s preference for growing the crop. Victor does not use chemicals in his process, but instead he grows his coffee plants under fruit trees. In a sense this makes the fruit trees an input because they contribute to erosion prevention, soil nutrient concentration, and provide source of nitrogen fixation for the coffee. That said, nitrogen is also an input for the coffee. Other inputs include, though are likely not limited to, water, compost, and nutrients. In the processing line, coffee beans, the honey around the beans, as well as the casing are put into the system.

      Outputs of the processing line are dilute honey from washing, casings that are used for the compost input, and beans. However, this only applies to Victor and farmers that use the same process as he does from start to finish.


    • Another notable impact is the ecotourism aspect of the plantation. A portion of income of is production is specifically based on tourist’s interest in seeing a small scale coffee production and then buying some of the coffee.

      In addition is the labor aspects of the of the production. This plantation is bring jobs to locals.


  2. Although Coopedota is considered the first carbon neutral coffee plantation, what kinds of processes do you think may not be taken into consideration when determining this title? Also, comparing and contrasting the waste production and ecological impact of the Cafe San Luis plantation VS. the Coopedota plantation, could you maybe discuss the differences in sustainability and environmental impact?


  3. Very good post, Danielle!

    One thing I wanted to focus more on was the three methods used at Coopedota for drying the coffee beans– sun drying, mechanical drying with a wheel, and drying in a greenhouse. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each method? According to a paper by the FAO, it takes 17,000 KJ/kg of coffee cherry to dry in the sun. This energy requirement can be dramatically decreased through manipulation of heat transfers with mechanical methods. However, these mechanical methods must be very expensive and could have a very lengthy payback period.

    Also, when is it best to use one method and not the others, and which method is preferred by consumers? It seems to me that in the tropic regions where rain can be very common, that sun drying may not be most effective, even if it happens to be the best tasting.

    FAO paper: http://www.fao.org/waicent/faoinfo/food-safety-quality/cd_hygiene/cnt/cnt_en/sec_3/docs_3.2/Intro%20coffee%20drying.pdf


  4. Coopedota and its commitment to carbon neutral coffee production was fascinating to me. Do we know if there are any incentives through the government to promote responsible business practices such as this? By providing tax incentives or other advantages, I believe more and more carbon neutral operations would be created. Though the emphasis should always be on education and the reasoning behind carbon neutral businesses, offering a financial advantage could expedite increasing the numbers of carbon neutral operations.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s