Researchers with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Western Regional Research Center (Albany, CA) have been working projects centering on optimizing bioproducts. One of the goals of the USDA ARS project is to scale-up torrefaction of California-derived biomass, such as almond or walnut shells, which are made into a charcoal-like material to displace carbon black. Once example involves preparing composites for pallets, like our Corona 48×40 Plastic Pallet.
What is Torrefaction?
Torrefaction is a thermal process where biomass is heated to 200–300°C in the absence of air and oxygen, undergoing mild pyrolysis and drying.
Almond hulls are a byproduct of the almond shelling process. (photo from: http://www.almonds.com/blog/accelerated-innovation-management/almond-board-explores-alternative-uses-almond-byproducts)
Torrefied Shells as Fillers for Plastic Composites
The USDA ARS have been looking at ways to reduce the use of plastic fillers and carbon black, in the production of plastic composites such as plastic pallets. With ground torrefied almond shells, a number of advantages have been shown. Cryo-ground torrefied almond shells, typically with particle size of 150 µm, have a lower density than polyethylene and polypropylene (PP). The filler produced by these shells also proved to improve stiffness, raise the heat deflection temperature (HDT) by 5–8°C, and achieve a darker color in the final product, therefore the use of carbon black could be minimized or even eliminated.
Working with TranPak for the First Plastic Shipping Pallet Made with Torrefied Filler
The USDA ARS collaborated with TranPak to introduce resins created in the torrefaction/pelletizing process into TranPak’s injection-molded shipping pallet, the Corona. The TranPak team utilized various torrefied biomass feedstocks at low concentrations as plastic fillers with post-consumer recycled polypropylene/polyethylene blends.
The Corona 48×40 pallet manufactured with torrefied biomass.
Advantages of Using Torrefied Shells for Plastic Pallets
- Increase the tensile and stiffness of the pallet
- Reduce costs (biomass is cheaper than recycled plastic)
- Reduce plastic usage
- Create an outlet for biomass waste consumption
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