Using Everything the Almond Orchard Grows
The nutritious almonds we eat1 grow in a shell, protected by a hull, on a tree. The trees store carbon and are transformed into electricity at the end of their lives, the shells become livestock bedding, and the hulls are used as dairy feed. Nothing goes to waste. California Almond farmers and processors have always taken responsibility for these coproducts—the hulls, shells and trees—getting the most out of the resources used to grow almonds and ensuring they’re put to beneficial use rather than sent to landfill.
A changing market for these materials has led the California Almond community to focus research investment on new uses, embracing a zero-waste approach to ensure everything our almond orchards grow is used while addressing needs across multiple industries such as food, pharmaceuticals and automotive.
Almond trees capture and store a significant amount of carbon over their 25-year life cycle, and using the trees’ hulls, shells and woody biomass is key to reducing carbon emissions and environmental impact. Considering the inherent properties of trees and current uses of almond coproducts, current almond farming practices are offsetting about 50% of their carbon emissions.2 With further production improvements and policy changes, the California Almond community could eventually be carbon neutral, or even carbon negative.
Within the larger context of food, researcher Dr. Alissa Kendall states, "California almonds have a lower carbon footprint than many other nutrient-dense foods."
Almond Board of California is committed to new uses of almond coproducts that can support California in creating a genuine bioeconomy where every byproduct is an input for another valuable product. Research is underway to investigate how components of almond hulls and shells can be transformed to provide value to other industries.
Just as when you transform a raw egg into a plate of scrambled eggs for breakfast, by changing the properties of coproducts using heat, fermentation, extraction and other processes, their components become valuable for alternative uses. Current research is exploring using almond hull and shell components as a growing medium for mushroom cultivation, producing feed sources for poultry and aquaculture, as well as plastic additives for strength and color, soil amendments for almonds and other crops, supplemental winter food sources for honey bees—and even for brewing beer.
Mimicking Mother Nature
Healthy soils are vital to backyard gardens and almond orchards alike. Just as a tree falling in the forest provides nutrients to those around it, researchers are working on projects, funded by Almond Board of California and the almond community, to explore the potential for recycling almond coproducts back into the soil and how that might affect orchard health.
The goal of these projects is to improve soil health by increasing the soil nutrients, organic matter, microbial activity and beneficial organisms, as well as water infiltration and water-holding capacity.
One of those research projects underway is known as whole orchard recycling, a process in which entire almond orchards are ground up at the end of their lives, and the woody materials are incorporated into the soil. Preliminary findings indicate this may return nutrients to the soil, increase water infiltration and storage,3 and slow the release rate of carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas—into the atmosphere.4
1. Good news about almonds and heart health. Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. One serving of almonds (28 grams) has 13 grams of unsaturated fat and only 1 gram of saturated fat.
2. Alissa Kendall, et al. “Life Cycle–Based Assessment of Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Almond Production. Part 1: Analytical Framework and Baseline Results.” Journal of Industrial Ecology. 2015.
3. 16-PREC3-Holtz. Almond Orchard Recycling.
4. Alissa Kendall, et al. “Life Cycle–Based Assessment of Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Almond Production, Part I: Analytical Framework and Baseline Results.” Journal of Industrial Ecology. 2015.