How We Grow

2019 March/April How We Grow

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9 Almond Stage. Penney's project got him thinking about the world of possibilities surrounding almond coproducts. Once Grosz participated in the Leadership program himself, he realized the true need for new uses and value-added markets for the almost 2 billion pounds of shells coming out of California's almond orchards. Such solutions could, among other benefits, help the industry achieve zero waste in orchards by 2025 by putting everything we grow to optimal use, one of the four Almond Orchard 2025 Goals set by the ABC Board of Directors this past year. Moreover, the transformed almond shells could appeal to a wide circle of businesses. In fact, pallet and slip sheet trials suggest torrefied almond shells could be placed in plastic lumber that's used for decking, fences, park benches and picnic tables. Other potential uses include placement in irrigation equipment, planting pots and automotive bins. Hurdles on the horizon While there's much excitement around the prospect of placing torrefied almond shells in plastics, this idea isn't without its challenges. For starters, there is no single location where this process — torrefying the almonds, incorporating the torrefied almond pellets into the plastic mixture, and so on — can take place. Grosz and the team of ABC staff and researchers have had to ship raw almond shells on a multi-stop, cross-country journey for torrefaction, grinding, milling and masterbatch creation. It's expensive and time- consuming. This current reality also means that testing takes time. For instance, a December 2018 slip sheet trial unfortunately did not produce a final product with the correct plastics- to-almond coproduct ratio, so while further trials are being planned the lengthy process means it could be weeks before another trial can take place. "California needs a commercial- scale torrefier for the new venture to succeed economically," Grosz said. "Ideally, it would be located near large almond handlers." Another hurdle is removing the barbeque smell that's produced when almond shells are torrefied. This unwanted scent side effect could permeate plastic, impairing its use for direct contact with food packaging. "Torrefied almond shells as a plastic filler or an additive provides a value- added option for the California almond industry to achieve its goal of achieving zero waste by 2025, but research on scaling up the torrefaction process and its potential applications in more plastic products, not to mention the need for a local commercialization facility, are needed to materialize this potential option into a real solution," said Guangwei Huang, ABC's associate director of Food Research and Technology. Huang is joining ABC Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Karen Lapsley in leading ABC's efforts in biomass utilization. USDA and the Almond Board of California have funded the torrefaction research throughout this process, with help from TranPak and Repsco. But Grosz, Huang and their partners aren't stopping there — they're reaching out to other manufacturers to see if torrefied almond shells will work in their plastic-making processes. "The process is the focus now," Grosz said. "It will open doors to a lot of other products and to further opportunities for the almond industry." Torrefied almond shells in pellet form can be mixed with recycled plastics to create pallets and slip sheets, with the potential for more innovations in this area. "Everyone in the plastics industry is looking for a competitive edge. If they can tell consumers that their product is made with sustainable additives, like almond shells, that can be a big advantage." – Sullivan Grosz

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