Growing almonds in California is a creative, high-tech industry with an impressive scientific approach. But the limits of increasing yields and revenue with kernels might be in sight. No, problem for the Almond Board of California: Let’s make money with hulls and shells. The Almond Board invested in some research about products from hulls and shells.
An almond producer produces primarily…hulls and shells. What used to end up in landfills might just become the next source of significant revenue. Dr. Glenda Humiston, UC Davis and Bill Orts, USDA Albany explained how this might work at the 2017 Almond Conference. The Western Regional Research Center has a dedicated team of 50 researchers who work on biofuels and bioproducts. The scientific findings and the ideas remind me of the movie ‘Back to the future’: The shiny DeLorean car only needs some banana peels to fly.
The ‘Almond Biomass’ amounts to 2.4 billion tons per year. The almond hull contains up to 37% of fermentable sugars for Nonpareil. Fermentable Sugar could be turned into ethanol and ethanol is fuel – sustainable fuel. At the moment the cost per gallon would amount to nearly 4 US$ per gallon – more than twice the cost for corn kernels. But the hulls could be used to produce a concentrated sugar syrup which then could be used for food or feed. Research has shown that direct fermentation of the hulls is not practical. But it could be processed in a similar way like sugar beet.
And the researchers presented more interesting ideas:
1. Producing Biocoal from almond hulls by torrefaction (‘burning’
hulls in limited oxygen atmosphere) in a small reactor that could be transported between almond processors on a tractor trailer.
2. Making plastic parts with almond shell additives
3. Torrefied Biomass-Polymer Composites as an Alternative to wood-polymer composites.
Significant revenue growth for almond growers with might still be years away. Successful applications might not only provide more income but also make almond production more sustainable and efficient. In the future researchers will have to find out how to isolate sugars from hulls and find the perfect application, find new uses for spent hulls and explore new uses for torrefied shells like in plastics or rubber tires. The Almond Board of California continues to think about…and invest in the future.