Using Everything the Orchard Grows: Our Commitment to Zero Waste

Posted December 15th, 2016

Did you know that in addition to the almond kernels we love to eat, almond trees also grow “coproducts”? This includes hulls and shells that protect the nut during its development, as well as the woody biomass of the tree itself. 

The California almond community has always taken responsibility for these coproducts, ensuring that they’re put to beneficial use, rather than sent to a landfill. However, the changing market for these products has led Almond Board of California (ABC) to focus research investment on new uses which address manufacturing needs across several industries, among them food, automotive, pharmaceutical and plastics. This brings value to the California almond community, the economy, the local environment, and supports almonds on their journey to zero waste.

One new use being explored is extracting sugar from almond hulls – which are naturally high in sugar – as well as ways to use the spent hulls that remain after sugar extraction. Almond Board-funded researchers are exploring the potential of using fermentation to convert the spent hulls to make fibrous materials that can be added to diapers as a natural absorbent or as additives for foods, moisturizers and pharmaceuticals. 

The shell of an almond can be heated to high temperatures, producing a charcoal-like product, which has the potential to be used to create stronger, biodegradable plastics such as garbage bags, flower pots and rubber tires.

One of the most exciting things researchers are working on right now is “whole orchard recycling,” the process of grinding up entire almond orchards at the end of their mature life and incorporating the trees’ material into the soil. This process returns nutrients to the land, and improves its quality and water-holding capacity. Additionally, researchers are investigating whether using almond hulls as compost in an orchard will lead to an increase in soil fertility, organic matter, and farm sustainability.1

To best lead all of this research and progress, the California almond community has created and invested in a specialized Biomass Task Force that was launched this past October. The task force is composed of a cross-functional group of almond biomass experts, industry members, and allied stakeholders.

The Almond Board is also working closely with the Almond Alliance of California to provide relevant data to assist in the Alliance’s efforts as part of a broad coalition seeking state legislative and regulatory solutions to California’s management of woody biomass.

For more information on current and future uses of almond coproducts, click here to download the new Using Everything the Orchard Grows: Our Commitment to Zero Waste infographic.

Stay tuned for updates on all of these innovative research projects!

1Sustainable almond farming utilizes production practices that are economically viable and are based upon scientific research, common sense and a respect for the environment, neighbors and employees. The result is a plentiful, nutritious, safe food product.