In the future, your Nespresso pod could supply more than just your daily dose of caffeine. It could test you for COVID-19.
Researchers in the Netherlands have developed an at-home, self-administered COVID-19 test that’s cheap and has potential for mass adoption as it utilizes the aluminum shell from used Nespresso pods as a heating vessel. The study, conducted by Aldrik H. Velders, Michel Ossendrijver, Bart J.F. Keijser, and Vittorio Saggiomo at the Laboratory of BioNanoTechnology at Wageningen University & Research, has yet to undergo peer review.
Dubbed the “CoroNaspresso,” the device is a modified version of a loop-mediated isothermal amplification or LAMP test, which can detect viral RNA from oral or nasal swabs.
To make the test, researchers filled an empty Nespresso capsule with roughly 6 grams of wax, a paraffin-based phase-change material, or PCM. They then cut a circle out of foam that fits around the lip of the capsule and dropped the capsule in a pot of hot water. As the water melts the wax, the foam acts as a buoy to keep the capsule afloat. Once the wax has melted, the user nestles a 3D-printed plastic test tube holder into the top opening. Put a little test tube in each hole while the wax is still soft in order to mold the shape, and voilà, you have a Nespresso COVID-19 test ready to go. The researchers’ choice of coffee pod has less to do with brand loyalty than material: Aluminum is a good heat conductor. (It’s possible aluminum pods from other brands might work too, though the study doesn’t specify alternatives.)
The testing process is more labor-intensive than making your morning brew, but then again, you’re not just sending steaming water through some beans. This test is designed to recognize viral particles, and that takes precision. So, here’s how it works.
You’d take your ready-made COVID-19 test and insert a test tube with the genetic material you want to test for COVID-19, like from an oral or nasal swab. Bring a pot of water to boil. Remove it from the heat and drop the CoroNaspresso into the hot bath for about 25 to 30 minutes (it should be about 140 to 158 degrees Fahrenheit to initiate the reaction; you could use a sous vide to check the water temp, according to the study). Then take it out and let it cool for three minutes and take a peek at the vial you placed in the Nespresso pod. If the fluid inside any of the vials turns yellow, bad news: that’s a positive COVID-19 test.
There are a few issues here. Sure, the Nespresso pods are commercially available, but it’s unclear where the everyday coffee fiend could source Rubitherm RT64HC, the wax the researchers used to make the mold for their vials. Same goes for the 3D-printed holder. So while the vessel is easily accessible, the other components of this at-home test are less so. The solution seems more like a hack for scientists or health officials who might already have access to testing items.
But, even if it’s still in the experimental phase, it’s a smart way of thinking about how we can reduce waste when the pandemic has already caused so much of it—from personal protective equipment to disposable masks to vaccine needles. The researchers are touting the test as cheap, rapid, and simple. That’s more than you can say for your typical bougie latte order.