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R E S E A R C H A N D A N A LY S I S

Life Cyclebased Assessment of Energy


Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in
Almond Production, Part I
Analytical Framework and Baseline Results
Alissa Kendall, Elias Marvinney, Sonja Brodt, and Weiyuan Zhu

Keywords:
agriculture
agroecosystems
energy footprint
food production
life cycle assessment (LCA)
orchards

Supporting information is available


on the JIE Web site

Summary
This first article of a two-article series describes a framework and life cyclebased model
for typical almond orchard production systems for California, where more than 80% of
commercial almonds on the world market are produced. The comprehensive, multiyear,
life cyclebased model includes orchard establishment and removal; field operations and
inputs; emissions from orchard soils; and transport and utilization of co-products. These
processes are analyzed to yield a life cycle inventory of energy use, greenhouse gas (GHG)
emissions, criteria air pollutants, and direct water use from field to factory gate. Results
show that 1 kilogram (kg) of raw almonds and associated co-products of hulls, shells, and
woody biomass require 35 megajoules (MJ) of energy and result in 1.6 kg carbon dioxide
equivalent (CO2 -eq) of GHG emissions. Nitrogen fertilizer and irrigation water are the
dominant causes of both energy use and GHG emissions. Co-product credits play an
important role in estimating the life cycle environmental impacts attributable to almonds
alone; using displacement methods results in net energy and emissions of 29 MJ and
0.9 kg CO2 -eq/kg. The largest sources of credits are from orchard biomass and shells
used in electricity generation, which are modeled as displacing average California electricity.
Using economic allocation methods produces significantly different results; 1 kg of almonds
is responsible for 33 MJ of energy and 1.5 kg CO2 -eq emissions. Uncertainty analysis of
important parameters and assumptions, as well as temporary carbon storage in orchard
trees and soils, are explored in the second article of this two-part article series.

Introduction
California-grown almonds dominate the global market. In
20122013, California produced 953,000 tonnes of almonds,
constituting 83% of the worlds commercial almond production
(OGA 2013) and occupying more than 315,000 hectares (ha)
of Californias fertile cropland (USDA 2013). As with many
commercially produced crops, almond production demands

significant quantities of agrochemical inputs and fossil fuels for


mechanized field operations. In addition, commercial almond
production in California requires irrigation, which accesses
groundwater resources and surface waters by the California
Aqueduct system, entailing significant energy inputs for on-site
and upstream water pumping.
Whereas almond production in California requires fossil
energy inputs and causes greenhouse gas (GHG) and other

Address correspondence to: Alissa Kendall, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of CaliforniaDavis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95618,
USA. Email: amkendall@ucdavis.edu
2015 The Authors. Journal of Industrial Ecology, published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc., on behalf of Yale University This is an open access article under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
DOI: 10.1111/jiec.12332
Editor managing review: Miguel Brandao
Volume 00, Number 0

www.wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/jie

Journal of Industrial Ecology

R E S E A R C H A N D A N A LY S I S

emissions, the orchard agroecosystems that yield these almonds


accumulate significant quantities of biomass during the 25-year
orchard life span and generate a large amount of biomass
in wood, shells, and hulls annually (Kroodsma and Field
2006; Oelbermann et al. 2004). A significant fraction of
orchard biomass and almond shells are combusted to produce
electricity at power plants, which are widely distributed in
almond-growing regions of California (Wallace and Leland
2007). Other co-products from the system, such as hulls, also
find economic uses, for example, as livestock feed.
This study characterizes a typical almond orchard production system in California and uses life cycle assessment
(LCA)-based methods to inventory GHG emissions, energy
use, direct water use, and other air pollutants. The research
is divided into two parts reflected in this two-article series.
The objectives of the current article are to describe model
development, calculate baseline results, and guide the selection
of parameters for further analysis conducted in the second
article (Marvinney et al. 2015). The part II article builds on
the part I article by conducting sensitivity and scenario analysis
on model parameters, and by testing the effects of including
temporary carbon storage in orchard agroecosystems on global
warming potential (GWP) calculations.
Though LCA and carbon footprinting methods have
been applied to a wide variety of food production systems,
orchards have been examined relatively infrequently. Studies
have focused primarily on apple (Mil`a i Canals et al. 2006;
Mouron et al. 2006; Page et al. 2011), kiwi (Xiloyannis et al.
2011), citrus (Coltro et al. 2009; Mordini et al. 2009), and
walnut production, although primarily in the context of timber
production (Cambria and Pierangeli 2011). Many of these
studies examine a single year for a production system and do not
consider the entire orchard life cycle. In a comprehensive review of perennial cropping system LCAs, Bessou and colleagues
(2013) identified this and a number of additional shortcomings
and opportunities for improvement, including modeling all
perennial life cycle stages (including nursery production for
saplings) and changes in yield over the orchard life span, as well
as the need for improved measurement and assessment of field
emissions. The study described in this article addresses these
identified shortcomings and considers additional processes not
included in previous orchard LCAs, such as spatially explicit
modeling of irrigation technologies and water sources.

Methods and Materials


Goal and Scope Definition
The goal of this project is to develop a process-based
life cycle inventory (LCI) for typical commercial California
almond production, with particular emphasis on estimating
the GHG emissions and energy consumption associated with
almond production activities, though criteria air pollutants
(air pollutants regulated under the U.S. National Ambient Air
Quality Standards) and direct water use are tracked as well.
Criteria air pollutants are only reported in the Supporting
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Journal of Industrial Ecology

Information available on the Journals website. GHG emissions


are reported in units of carbon dioxide (CO2 )-equivalence
(CO2 -eq) based on the most recent Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Changes (IPCC) GWPs (Myhre et al. 2013).
The profile of a typical almond crop is based on areaweighted averages for the state. The area-weighted average
includes yield and water-use estimates by irrigation system type, as well as spatial determinants of energy use in
irrigationnamely, groundwater depth and surface water
source. Operations and inputs that contribute the most to
total emissions and energy (i.e., hotspots) over the almond
production life cycle are identified to assist growers in targeting
the likely highest emitting or highest energy-using processes
for reduction, as well as to guide the selection of parameters for
further study in the part II article of the series.
The modeling unit of analysis is 1 ha of almond orchard
assessed over a 26-year time period (year zero through 25) for
all inputs and outputs; however, the functional unit of analysis
is 1 kilogram (kg) of raw brown-skin almond (almond kernel)
at the postharvest processing facility gate. Emissions and energy
per kg yield are not constant year to year, so averaging over
the orchard life span is required to report the emissions of a
typical California almond.
The environmental flows captured in the analysis include
renewable and nonrenewable primary energy, biogenic carbon
assimilated during biomass growth and emitted during biomass
utilization (which is only used in the part II article of the
series for temporary carbon storage calculations), direct
water use, GHG emissions (fossil CO2 , methane [CH4 ],
nitrous oxide [N2 O], and sulfur hexafluoride), and criteria air
pollutants.
System Definition and Boundaries
The Orchard Life Cycle and Orchard Operations
The following processes are quantified over the productive
life span of an almond orchard in this study (figure 1): nursery
production of almond saplings; orchard establishment; field
operations; production and transport of chemical and material
inputs to the orchard; pollination services; biogeochemical field
emissions; and transport and utilization of co-products, namely,
biomass removed during pruning and orchard clearing and
shells used in electricity generation, and hulls used as dairy feed.
The orchard life cycle produces a total of 181 tonnes of
almond kernel, along with co-products of nearly 400 tonnes
of shells and hulls, and 41 tonnes of woody biomass. Year zero
of the life cycle requires land preparation and orchard establishment (planting); years 1 and 2 are dedicated to tree growth and
have no yield and relatively low inputs of water and fertilizer;
years 3 to 6 have increasing yields of almonds and prunings,
as well as increasing inputs of water and fertilizer; years 7
through 25 mark tree maturity when maximum steady-state
yields of almonds and co-products are achieved, and which
require maximum inputs of water and agrochemicals. After
harvest in year 25, the orchard is removed, to be re-established
the following year. Orchard removal yields 86% of all the

R E S E A R C H A N D A N A LY S I S

Agrochemical
Inputs
Nursery
Model

Transport
Modeling

California
Aqueduct
Model

Groundwater
Pumping

Legend
(Sub)Processes

Farm
Equipment
Modeling

Irrigation
systems

(Co-)Product Flows
Operation

Orchard
Establishment

Orchard
Removal

Orchard Production & Harvest

Hulling and
Shelling

Hulls, Shells &


Hash

Almond
Kernel

Co-Products for
Livestock

Orchard
Biomass

Orchard
Biomass

In-shell
Almonds

Field N2O
Models

Biomass Co-product Fate & Utilization Model


Biomass Power
Plants
Solid
Fuel

Gasification
Biochar
Model

In-Field
Mulch

In-field
In-Field
Burning
Air
Pollution
Model

Figure 1 Model framework.

woody biomass generated by the orchard. Figure 1 illustrates


the almond life cycle and the processes modeled.
Table 1 describes, in detail, the key inputs and outputs
from the orchard over the 26-year life span. Annual yield is
a critical parameter given that orchard production processes
and consequent environmental flows are divided by yield when
calculating the life cycle impacts of a mass of almonds. Though
yield varies within and across orchards, the two primary
influences on yield are the age of the orchard and the irrigation
system type. There are two primary categories of irrigation that
influence yield: nonflood system types, which include microsprinkler (45% of almond orchards), drip (25% of almond
orchards), and sprinkler (18% of almond orchards); and flood
systems (12% of almond orchards). Each irrigation system type is
modeled separately, but the composite (area-weighted average)
value is used to represent typical California almond production.
Different irrigation system types use different materials,
water pressures, and quantities of water (different on a per
ha basis and per mass of almond basis) and require different
maintenance and replacement rates. These are all included in
the analysis. Section S.3.3 in the supporting information on
the Web provides additional details on the irrigation system
assumption and data that underlie irrigation system modeling.
Further assumptions for the orchard system include:

r
r

One percent of the trees die and are replaced each year.
Replanting and biomass removal are accounted for on
a yearly basis until year 20, after which no replanting
occurs.
The modeled orchard is established on land previously
occupied by almond orchard and will be replaced with

r
r

almond orchard at the end of its productive life span,


leading to no net change in soil carbon levels at end of
life (EOL). Although Kroodsma and Field (2006) determined that a net CO2 sequestration occurs in orchard
soils when farmland is converted from annual production systems, the net sequestration in orchard floor soil
is assumed negligible, based on the assumption that the
previous system was also almond orchard and the fact
that orchard soils are severely disturbed during clearing,
releasing CO2 , and eliminating sequestration at the end
of the orchard life span (Six et al. 2004). However, the
second article in this series considers temporary carbon
storage in standing biomass, as well as estimates of carbon
accumulated in soils during the life span, to determine
the potential contribution of temporary carbon storage in
GWP characterizations.
Each irrigation system is modeled separately to account
for differences in yield, water use (including pumping
requirements), and differences in direct and indirect N2 O
emissions from the field using IPCC Tier 2 methods.
Agricultural equipment lasts a relatively long time and
may have multiple uses, and many key operations are
conducted by contractors who use equipment year round
on many orchards and farms. For these reasons, equipment
production is unlikely to have a major impact on the
results of this analysis and is excluded, consistent with
the treatment of long-term capital investments in other
LCA studies (BSI 2011).

Kendall et al., Life Cycle Energy and GHG Emissions for Almonds, Par t I

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Table 1 Key inputs and outputs from 1 ha of almond orchard


Flows
Fertilizer

Irrigation

Other

Nitrogen
Potassium
Boron
Zinc
Micro-sprinkler or
sprinkler
Drip
Flood
Saplings
Pollination

Almond yield Nonflood irrigated


Flood irrigated
Weighted average yield
Co-Products Shells
Hulls
Woody biomass (at 32%
moisture)

Unit
kg N ha1
kg K2 O ha1
g B ha1
kg Z ha1
m3 ha1
m3 ha1
m3 ha1
# ha1
hives ha1
kg kernel ha1
kg kernel ha1
kg kernel ha1
kg ha1
kg ha1
kg ha1

0
1
2
3
Inputs*
0
22
45
90
0
22
45
90
0
448
448
448
0
5.6
5.6
5.6
0 2,794 5,334 8,128

Year
4
135
135
448
5.6
8,280

7 to 25 Clearing

179
224
224
179
224
224
448
448
448
5.6
5.6
5.6
11,176 11,176 11,176

0 1,676 2,743 5,791 8,280 8,280 8,280 8,280


0 3,302 6,350 9,652 12,954 12,954 12,954 12,954
128 1.3
1.3
1.3
1.3
1.3
1.3
1.3
0
0
0
4.9
4.9
4.9
4.9
4.9
Outputs
0
0
0
203
407
813
1,017 2,242
0
0
0
203
407
712
1,017 2,466
0
0
0
203
407
783
1,017 2,309
0
0
0
448
897
1,793 2,242 2,242
0
0
0
897 1,793 3,587 4,483 4,483
0
30
94
147
185
215
239
260

35,073

Sources: Freeman and colleagues (2003a, 2003b); Duncan and colleagues (2006); Connell and colleagues (2006); Freeman and colleagues (2008); Duncan
and colleagues (2011a, 2011b); and Connell and colleagues 2012).
* Pesticides used are listed in table S3 in the supporting information on the Web.
kg = kilograms; N = nitrogen; ha = hectare; K2 O = potassium oxide; g =grams; B = boron; Z = zinc; m3 = cubic meters; # = number.

Postharvest Processes: Hulling and Shelling Operations


After harvest, in-shell almonds are transported to hulling
and shelling facilities, where hulls and then shells are removed.
After this stage, almonds can be processed for retail or stored
for further processing at a later date. Surveys were obtained
from five hulling and shelling facilities that, together, processed
approximately 15% of the states almonds in the survey year.
These facilities provided information on energy consumption
during operations, their annual production, and the mass
and fates of co-products. These data were used to generate a
weighted mean value for energy, fuel use, and co-products per
kg almond kernel produced.
The weighted average direct energy consumption for hulling
and shelling activities per kg of kernel produced is 0.59 megajoules (MJ) and breaks down by energy carrier as follows:
0.55 MJ of electricity; 0.023 MJ of propane; 0.011 MJ of diesel;
and 0.0086 MJ of gasoline. This is total facility energy, meaning
that energy has not yet been allocated among almond kernel and
other co-products. Table 2 shows the four possible fates of these
six co-products, which include handlers, feed, livestock bedding, and energy uses. Handlers transport almonds for further
processing, further packaging for retail, or directly to wholesale
or retail locations. Feed uses for hulls and hash are assumed to be
for dairy cattle, as is livestock bedding use for shells. Energy uses
are for combustion in biomass power plants to generate electricity. One hundred percent of each co-product is assumed to be
directed to its indicated fate (though losses could occur during
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Journal of Industrial Ecology

transport, handling, and processing), except for shells, which


are split evenly among energy and bedding. Note that some almonds (2.5% of the processed mass) are hulled but not shelled;
these will be transported from the facility as in-shell almonds.
Co-product Treatment
Co-products are generated from the orchard stage and
from the hulling and shelling stage of production. For the
orchard stage, the primary co-products are in-shell almonds
and orchard biomass exported from the site for electricity
production. Co-products generated at hulling and shelling
facilities include (1) raw brown-skin almonds, (2) in-shell
almonds, (3) hulls, (4) shells, (5) hash (a mix of hulling and
shelling fines that might include all parts), and (6) woody
biomass (sticks and twigs that are unintentionally harvested
with the almonds). The quantity of co-products from hulling
and shelling and their uses are reported in table 2.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
14040 LCA standards favor avoiding allocation calculations
by either subdivision of the system into separately analyzed
processes, or expanding the system boundaries to include all
processes associated with co-products, and also recommends
that multiple methods be tested when allocation cannot be
avoided (ISO 2006). Subdivision may not be possible where
processes cannot be disaggregated, as in the case of orchard
production systems. Thus, the baseline approach used in this

R E S E A R C H A N D A N A LY S I S

Table 2 Annual co-product mass and fate based on a weighted average for five surveyed shelling and hulling operations
Fate

Mass (kg)

% total output by mass*

Handler
Handler
Dairy feed
Dairy feed
Energy (50%) and livestock bedding (50%)
Bioenergy

24,330,652
1,902,324
37,984,437
385,006
10,992,532
637,894

31.6
2.5
49.3
0.5
14.3
0.8

Co-products
Brown-skin almonds
In-shell almonds
Hulls
Hash
Shell
Woody biomass
* May

not sum to 100% owing to rounding.


kg = kilograms.

analysis is displacement (i.e., system expansion), but economic


allocation is also tested to illustrate the effect of co-product
treatment on analysis outcomes.
System Expansion
When system expansion is used to develop co-product
displacement credits, co-products used in electricity generation
(woody biomass and shells) are assumed to displace the
average electricity fuel mix for the state. This approach was
chosen based on Marland and Schlamadinger (1995). Not
all almond orchard biomass is destined for electric power
generation, however. Alternative uses include use on-farm as
mulch and groundcover, which receive no co-product credit
or carbon sequestration in this analysis under the assumption
that biogenic CO2 stored in mulched biomass is released
over relatively short time scales to the atmosphere during
decomposition. Displacement calculations for hulls and hash
assume that these products displace silage corn in cattle diets.
Biomass is generated during orchard pruning and during
orchard removal at EOL. Values from Wallace and Leland
(2007) were used to estimate the average mass of prunings
removed. Based on personal communication and published
literature, we assume that 50% of these prunings are burned
in-field and 50% are used as mulch (Wallace and Leland 2007).
When prunings are burned, CH4 , N2 O emissions, and criteria
air pollutants are generated and tracked in the modeling,
whereas biogenic CO2 released during burning is not.
No existing data were found on the quantity and fate of
biomass generated during orchard removal. Thus, primary data
were collected from a sample of orchard-clearing operations
representing 62 different locations, and a total of more than
800 ha within the San Joaquin Valley. These data were used
to estimate the average biomass removed per ha at the end
of an orchards 25-year productive life. Surveyed operators
reported that approximately 95% of cleared biomass is used for
electricity generation, with the remainder used as mulch and
ground cover. Table 1 shows the annual quantity of biomass
removed from a typical orchard over its life span.
The energy content of wood was obtained from Wallace and
Leland (2007), and a reasonably low estimate for power plant
conversion efficiency of 0.25 was used to determine electricity
generation offsets to avoid potentially overestimating credits
(Bain 1993). The equivalent emissions from the average

California grid electricity generation mix were considered to


be displaced by the electricity produced from orchard biomass.
Each kg of green (wet) biomass generates approximately
2.57 MJ of electricity after being dried in-field and at the
power plant. When hulls and hash are fed to cattle, they are
assumed to displace silage on a one-to-one mass basis. Detailed
LCI information is available in table S3 in the supporting
information on the Web.
Economic Allocation
Economic allocation is tested as an alternative to system
expansion. Economic allocation was favored over other
value-based allocation methods because allocation based on
mass or energy content would attribute a very large portion of
environmental flows to almond co-products, rather than the
almond kernel. For example, a mass-based allocation would
lead to partitioning that assigns less than one quarter of the
environmental flows to almonds. This allocation would not
reflect the primary economic driver of almond orchard systems,
which is the production of almonds for human consumption.
Economic allocation data were drawn from a variety of
sources for wholesale price information for the co-products
generated: almonds; hulls for dairy feed; electric power; and
shells used as livestock bedding. The methods and data used for
these calculations are described in section S5 in the supporting
information on the Web.
Data Sources
University of CaliforniaDavis (UCD) cost and return
studies were used as the basis for the orchard LCA model. Cost
and return studies document annual crop production costs for
various California crops, including almonds, by inventorying
typical inputs and cultural practices on a regional basis up to
the farm gate (Freeman et al. 2003a, 2003b; Duncan et al. 2006;
Connell et al. 2006; Freeman et al. 2008; Duncan et al. 2011a,
2011b; Connell et al. 2012). The studies are developed based on
data collected from growers, orchard managers, and UCD cooperative extension farm advisors through surveys, interviews,
and focus groups. They provide a picture of the typical nutrient,
pesticide, fuel, and water use, equipment use patterns (including equipment type and hours of operation), and annual yields
for an orchard system under a particular irrigation system type

Kendall et al., Life Cycle Energy and GHG Emissions for Almonds, Par t I

R E S E A R C H A N D A N A LY S I S

in a particular growing region (Sacramento Valley, San Joaquin


Valley North, and San Joaquin Valley South). In this LCA, the
most conservative available regional data from the studies are
used. In this context, conservative refers to the highest typical
input values, to reduce the risk of underestimating inputs.
Primary data, secondary data, and emissions models are
coupled with the cost and return studies to develop the LCI
model. In addition, because the cost and return studies do not
include postharvest processing, primary data are used to model
these processes.
Primary Data Collection for Orchard and Postharvest
Processes
One shortcoming of using the cost and return studies to inventory inputs and operations is that custom operations, those
operations conducted by contractors rather than the orchard
owners and managers, are tracked only as a cost, omitting information such as the hours of equipment operation and chemical
or fuel inputs associated with these operations. To fill these
and other data gaps in the model, additional data were obtained through surveys of businesses and individuals involved
in almond production. Surveys were administered to nursery
operators, almond growers and their orchard managers, custom
harvest operators, and orchard-clearing operators. These surveys were conducted by both online survey and in-person interviews. In-person interviews were conducted to collect data for
specific aspects of an operation, particularly equipment use and
time needed for various tasks. No survey data for individual respondents are reported in this article, to protect the anonymity
of cooperating individuals and businesses, but, wherever possible, aggregated or composite results from surveys are provided.
Data for hulling and shelling were collected through
surveys and interviews of facility operators, as described in the
Postharvest Processes: Hulling and Shelling Operations section. As
with other survey and interview data collected in this research,
data are published as a composite (weighted average) of survey
results to ensure the anonymity of participating businesses.
Orchards are irrigated either using groundwater or through
the extensive network of aqueducts in the state. Irrigation
type (flood, micro-sprinkler, sprinkler, or drip) and the region
of irrigation are critical factors in determining inputs (both
water quantity and the energy use for water delivery and
application) and yield. Regional distribution information on
irrigation methods and the proportion of groundwater versus
surface water used by growers was obtained from survey data
commissioned by the Almond Board of California to develop a
sustainability program for the states almond growers (Almond
Board of California 2012).
Where groundwater is used, direct pumping energy is
accounted for in on-farm electricity and diesel use based
on groundwater depth; however, water delivered from the
California aqueduct system required the development of a new
LCI. The LCI was developed using geographical information
systems (GIS) modeling and aqueduct water pumping energy
requirements (Burt et al. 2003; Klein and Krebs 2005). On
average, the energy and CO2 -eq emissions for pumping 1 cubic
6

Journal of Industrial Ecology

meter (m3 ) of water to California almond orchards are 0.59 MJ


and 94.7 grams (g) CO2 -eq, respectively.
A few entirely original LCIs had to be created for this
model, because no previous LCIs or studies were identified.
The original LCIs created as part of this research include:
nursery production of orchard saplings; orchard pollination by
commercial beekeepers; irrigation water from the California
aqueduct system; and LCIs for a number of custom operations,
most important, orchard removal.
An LCI model for nursery production of almond saplings
was developed with the cooperation of one major supplier
in the state of California. This LCI is described in detail in
section S.3.1 in the supporting information on the Web. The
LCI for nursery production shows that each almond sapling
is responsible for 2.53 kg CO2 -eq emissions and 18.1 MJ of
energy use. Nursery tree production systems generate multiple
products. Economic allocation methods were used to allocate
among co-products. Nurseries produce a variety of orchard
tree saplings, and thus the LCI was allocated to almond
saplings based on the percentage of total gross nursery income
from almond sapling sales. Previous LCA studies of nurseries
indicate that the price of trees tend to reflect time spent in
greenhouses and the quantity of agrochemical inputs used in
production (Kendall and McPherson 2012).
Almond production in California relies on paid pollination
services provided by commercial beekeepers. Pollination
services and honey are the only major co-products from
commercial beekeeping operations. A previous study examined
life cycle air emissions for several commercial beekeeping
operations in the continental United States to model U.S.
honey production (Kendall et al. 2012). This honey LCA was
used to develop a pollination service LCI based on economic
allocation between the two products. Inputs and emissions
were attributed to pollination services on a per hive basis,
and 4.9 hives are typically required per ha of almond orchard
in each productive year. The inventory on a per ha basis is
provided in table S5 in the supporting information on the
Web. Section S.3.2 in the supporting information on the Web
discusses the development of this inventory in greater detail.
LCIs for custom operations, such as orchard removal, were
developed by linking data on equipment use rates provided by
operators to the OFFROAD emissions model for calculating
emissions and fuel use, and fuel production was characterized
using a diesel production LCI, as documented in table S3 in
the supporting information on the Web.
Transportation Modeling for Inputs and Outputs
from the Orchard
A number of transportation stages are modeled in the
almond life cycle. In the orchard stage of production (field to
farm gate), transport modeling includes delivery of inputs to
the orchard, namely, agrochemicals. In some cases, such as for
nitrogen fertilizer, multiple stages of transport were modeled,
including the transport of precursor chemicals, followed by
transport of the final compounds to local warehouses, and then

R E S E A R C H A N D A N A LY S I S

final delivery to orchards. Transport distances were obtained


through personal communications with chemical manufacturing company representatives, material safety data sheets, and a
gray literature search to determine where active ingredients and
final formulations are manufactured. Shipping route distances
were calculated using previously published data (Kaluza et al.
2010). Section S1 and table S1 in the supporting information
on the Web provide additional detail on transportation
modeling.
Accounting for transportation distances for woody biomass
from orchards is important for understanding the energy use
and emissions of utilizing co-products. Emissions from biomass
transport from orchard to power plant were calculated based
on location data for biomass-fed power plants obtained from
the California Biomass Collaborative (2014). Plant location
data were overlaid on a map of almond production (USDA
2013) and modeled as described above for material transport.
Almond production areas within a given radius of each power
plant were identified, and the results were used to determine
the average distance between an acre of almond orchard and
the nearest biomass-fed power plant. The weighted-average
one-way distance was calculated at 33.6 kilometers (km).
Biomass is assumed to be transported in trucks with 22.7 tonnes
(25 short tons) of capacity.
Transportation modeling was also required for outputs from
the orchard. Harvested almonds were transported an average
one-way distance of 26.7 km in trucks with 22.7 tonnes (25
short tons) of capacity.
Secondary Data for Background Processes
LCI data quantify energy and material inputs as well as
emissions for a variety of background processes, including
diesel and gasoline production, agricultural chemicals, plastics,
and other agricultural inputs, such as manure. U.S. data were
used where available and supplemented with European data
sets where necessary, most notably for pesticide production.
The use of European data sets is unlikely to distort results from
this study, given that pesticides proved to be small contributors
to the impact categories included in this assessment.
Most LCI data come from published academic literature,
the ecoinvent Database (last updated in 2011), the GaBi
Professional database (last updated in 2009, 2011, and 2012),
and the U.S. LCI database (last updated in 2011) accessed
through the GaBi 4 and GaBi 6 software (ecoinvent Center
2008; PE International 2009, 2012). Table S3 in the supporting
information on the Web provides a list of all the LCI data sets
used in the almond LCA model.
Emission Models for Nitrous Oxide Field Emissions
and Fuel Combustion Emissions
The IPCC Tier 2 methodology is used to quantify the N2 O
emissions from almond orchards, which requires the use of
specific regional environmental and management data (De
Klein et al. 2006). In California almond orchards, the processes
of nitrification and denitrification that produce N2 O are
largely driven by nitrogen (N) availability, as determined by

fertilization practices, and soil moisture content, as determined


by irrigation practices (Smart et al. 2011).
The IPCC methods divide N2 O emission from managed
soils into two parts: direct and indirect emissions. Both sources
of N2 O are included in the modeling. A detailed description
of these pathways and the underlying data used to calculate
emissions factors are included in section S2 in the supporting
information on the Web. Table 3 shows the Tier 2 emission
factors developed for this study. Because many life cycle studies
rely on IPCC Tier 1 methods, and because N2 O emissions
sampling has high uncertainty, a comparison of Tier 1 and 2
approaches is provided in the part II article of this series.
Fuel combustion emissions for orchard equipment and
trucks were modeled using the OFFROAD software developed
by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) (2007). This
software models fleet emissions by geographical region and by
equipment age and type within the state of California. CO2 ,
carbon monoxide, CH4 , sulfur dioxide, N2 O, nitrogen oxides
(NOX ), nonmethane volatile organic carbons, and particulate
matter less than 10 microns emissions were predicted based on
hours of use for the mobile equipment used in orchards.

Results and Discussion


Results without Co-Product Allocation
Results show that 35.0 MJ of energy is consumed and
1.63 kg CO2 -eq emissions (based on global warming potential
for time horizon of 100 years [GWP100 ]) are released per kg
of brown-skin almond at the hulling and shelling facility gate
(with no co-product allocation). Nutrient management alone
contributes 26% of energy consumption and 51% of GWP100 ,
making it the largest contributor to GWP100 . Irrigation is the
largest consumer of energy, responsible for 29% of total energy
consumption, and the second-highest source of GWP100 at 24%
of CO2 -eq emissions. Table S9 in the supporting information
on the Web reports detailed results for air emissions, energy
use, GWP100 , and global warming potential for time horizon of
20 years (GWP20 ) for each process.
Results with Co-Product Allocation
The calculated credit for co-products used for electricity generation and in feed rations is 6.08 MJ kg1 and
0.71 kg CO2 -eq kg1 almond kernel at the hulling and shelling
facility gate. This results in net energy use of 28.9 MJ kg1 and
net GWP100 emissions of 0.92 kg CO2 -eq kg1 almond kernel
at the facility gate, as illustrated in figure 2. Detailed results
(including criteria air pollutants and GWP20 ) are shown in
table S10 in the supporting information on the Web.
The results using economic allocation show a significantly
different outcome, with almond kernel responsible for 94% of
environmental flows, hulls just over 5%, and orchard biomass
and shells used as energy resources for power generation approximately 1%. Based on economic allocation, 1 kg of almond
kernel is responsible for approximately 1.54 kg CO2 -eq and

Kendall et al., Life Cycle Energy and GHG Emissions for Almonds, Par t I

R E S E A R C H A N D A N A LY S I S

Table 3 Estimation of N2 O emission factors (EFs) of flood, micro-sprinkler and sprinkler, and drip-irrigated almond orchards in California
Irrigation
system type
Flood
Micro-sprinkler and Sprinkler
Drip

EF of direct N2 O
emission (g N2 O-N
g1 N applied)

EF of indirect N2 O
through NH3 (g N2 ON g1 N applied)

EF of indirect N2 O
through NOx (g N2 ON g1 N applied)

3.48 103
3.30 103
3.12 103

6.6 104
4.3 104
4.7 104

1.16 103
1.10 103
1.04 103

Note: N2 O = nitrous oxide; g = grams; N = nitrogen; NOx = nitrogen oxides.

4.0
Other Operations
3.5
Hulling & Shelling

3.0

Harvest

2.5

Irrigation

2.0
1.5

Biomass Management

1.0

Nutrient Management

0.5

Pest Management

0.0

Co-Product Credit

-0.5

Net Results from Displacement

-1.0
GWP

(kg CO -eq) Total Energy


(MJ/10)

Economic Allocation Results

Figure 2 GWP100 and total energy results by life cycle stage for 1 kg of almonds and final results using displacement and economic
allocation methods (assuming mean annual yield of 1.892 kg ha1 ). The y-axis values for the total energy bar represent the actual values in
MJ divided by 10; so, the total energy for 1 kg of almonds is 35 MJ and the net results after the co-product credit are 29 MJ. GWP100 =
global warming potential for time horizon of 100 years; kg = kilograms; ha = hectare; MJ = megajoules.

33 MJ. Complete results for economic allocation are provided


in table S13 in the supporting information on the Web.
Discussion
There are a few notable outcomes from this study. The first
is the importance of irrigation energy use and its contribution
to GHG emissions and total energy consumption, and the
second is the influence of co-product treatment on the burdens
attributable to almonds. As for the importance of irrigation,
the United States spans many agroecological regions, which
include large areas that depend only on rain-fed agriculture,
others that depend on rain and irrigation waters (both surface
and ground, but largely local water resources), and then
California, which depends on a unique, extensive, energyintensive system to store and deliver water from water-rich
regions to arid regions. Dependency on this system means
that some agricultural regions in California depend on
extremely energy-intense water resources for irrigation.
Thus, assessments of agricultural production systems require
geographically explicit modeling to properly estimate energy and emissions associated with production. The issue
of water consumption, and its impact on energy use and

Journal of Industrial Ecology

GHG emissions in water-scarce regions, such as Californias southern San Joaquin Valley, is a topic of future
research.
Co-product treatment methods have a strong effect on
the outcomes of this analysis, in particular, for co-products
used in power generation. Though, in economic terms, power
generation is a very low-value use of co-products, when displacement calculations are used that assume biopower displaces
the average electricity fuel mix in California, large energy,
emission, and GHG credits are generated. This can be viewed
as a methodological source of large variability, but might also
be viewed as a philosophical issue. Displacement calculations
implicitly assume that, in the absence of electricity generated
from almond co-products, the average fuel mix currently used
would replace it. This may be a reasonable assumption in the
short term, but, actually, as Renewable Portfolio Standards for
electricity become more stringent (CPUC 2013), it might be
more appropriate to assume that other renewable power sources
are displaced. Such an assumption would significantly change
displacement calculations and lower the credits attributable to
co-products used in power generation.
In addition, the potentially higher economic value for
renewable fuels used in California electricity are not reflected

R E S E A R C H A N D A N A LY S I S

Figure 3 GWP100 comparison of in-hull almond kernel to the edible fraction of other unprocessed food products.
(Note: Co-products are not accounted for in the reported values, and results are drawn from multiple sources, which may use different
methods and system boundaries.) GWP100 = global warming potential for time horizon of 100 years.

in the calculation because each negotiated rate for a power


production facility is confidential (see section S5 in the
supporting information on the Web for additional discussion
of economic allocation calculations and data sources). Instead,
average wholesale electricity prices are used to estimate the
value of biomass used in power generation. The potentially
higher wholesale electricity price for bio-based power in
California could increase the economic value of biomass used
for electricity generation.
Figure 3 compares the GWP100 of unprocessed almonds to
other unprocessed foods on the basis of mass and caloric content. Because these are unprocessed food products, co-products
that are generated during processing are not accounted for. The
caloric content of these products, including almonds, is adjusted
to account for the inedible portion of the product. The inedible
portions include materials removed postharvest, such as hulls
and shells in almonds or bone, gristle, and offal in meat products
(CCE 2012; Faria et al. 2010; Akhan et al. 2010). The caloric
values of the edible portion of unprocessed products are assigned
all of the environmental impacts measured at the farm gate.
This comparison is imperfect not only because co-products
are not accounted for, but also because mass and caloric
content do not represent the complete role or value of a
particular food within the human diet. Further, the GWP of
the other foods shown in figure 2 were calculated in different
LCA studies (using different system boundaries, assumptions,
and methods), leading to some uncertainty in the comparison.
Nevertheless, a comparison on caloric and mass bases provide
context for the almond LCA results. On a caloric basis, almond
performs better than the animal products included in figure 2
and has similar CO2 -eq emissions to the field crops included in
the comparison (Nielsen et al. 2003). The only other orchard
crop in figure 3, Spanish and Italian oranges (Mordini et al.
2009), show a smaller carbon footprint than almond on a per
kg basis, but not on a kilocalorie (kcal) basis. The per kcal basis
accounts for differences in water content and energy density

between oranges and almonds and illustrates one reason why


a mass-based comparison can be misleading.

Conclusion
This article examined typical almond production in California using weighted-average data and consensus values for
almond production inputs. As with all agricultural products,
almonds are subject to the inherent variability of region and
climate, which affects yields, biogeochemical emissions from
orchard soils, and cultural practices of growers. This analysis
also shows the critical importance of understanding the fate
of co-products from orchard production, their utilization for
energy production, and the use of displacement calculations
for allocation. The second article in this series explores these
key questions of variability, uncertainty, and scenarios that
represent the heterogeneity of existing practices and explores
the potential for changes over time that may significantly affect
the environmental performance of almonds, such as changes
to energy recovery technologies and irrigation technology.

Acknowledgments
This research was supported by a grant from the Almond
Board of California (Project No.: 10-AIR8-Kendall), entitled
Greenhouse Gas and Energy Footprint of California Almond
Production, Principle Investigator Dr. Alissa Kendall. This
research was also supported, in part, by the Specialty Crop
Block Grant Program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) through Grant 14-SCBGP-CA-0006, Principle
Investigator Dr. Sonja Brodt. Its contents are solely the
responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent
the official views of the USDA.
The authors thank all of the growers, nursery owners, orchard management companies, and colleagues who generously
gave their time and provided data and assistance to this project,

Kendall et al., Life Cycle Energy and GHG Emissions for Almonds, Par t I

R E S E A R C H A N D A N A LY S I S

and particularly to Dr. Johan Six and Dr. David Smart, and
their respective research teams, for assistance in provision of
data and guidance on field N2 O emissions.

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About the Authors


Alissa Kendall is an associate professor in the Department
of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Elias Marvinney is a
doctoral candidate in the Department of Plant Science, Sonja
Brodt is the academic coordinator of agriculture, resources, and
the environment at the Agricultural Sustainability Institute,
and Weiyuan Zhu is a graduate student in plant sciences, all
at University of CaliforniaDavis, Davis, CA, USA.

Supporting Information
Additional Supporting Information may be found in the online version of this article at the publishers web site:
Supporting Information S1: This supporting information includes detailed data on transport distances for orchard inputs,
the modeling of N2 O emissions, life cycle inventory development, the results for assessed flows, and economic allocation
calculations.

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11