How We Grow

2021 May/June How We Grow

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rubber formulations, with torrefied almond shells. After failed attempts to replace 25% to 100% of carbon black with TAS, they instead decided to replace 10% so that the tensile strength of the rubber wouldn't be compromised. And yet again, a challenge emerged – TAS could not be shipped directly to R & S Processing; the chips first had to be ground down to a particle size of 150 microns. After hours of internet research, Wagner was able to connect with a company willing to grind 1,000 pounds of TAS. The first batch sent for grinding was too wet, so it did not meet specification, but with the second batch, the process of manufacturing rubber almond shaker heads could begin. Research and results Given the challenges and obstacles along the way, Wagner was able to make remarkable progress in about six months. The day he gave his project presentation for fellow Almond Leadership Program classmates and mentors, ABC staff and industry leadership, 2 R & S Processing sent the compound formulation to Holz Rubber, who then molded the shaker pads. The TAS shaker pads performed successfully, but Wagner did observe that they generated slightly higher temperatures when compared to the control pads. When Wagner measured the temperature of the shaker pads after three hours of harvest and compared that to a set of control pads that did not contain TAS, he found that "what's going to ruin the rubber is heat. From what we know today, the torrefied almond shaker pads do not have better heat dispersion than the control." Wagner, USDA and ABC remain optimistic about where this research can go. Wagner's hard work will build onto existing research, paving the way for future iterations. "I think it worked remarkably well for a first shot," said Colleen McMahan, research chemist at USDA ARS. "The collaboration and support of the Almond Board and the way Connor worked with us was just terrific. We're happy to continue this effort." "It was a pleasure to work with Connor from the beginning on this and it was only possible because of his determination," said Guangwei Huang, associate director of Food Research and Technology at the Almond Board. "I am very impressed with the steps he took to go through all of this." Next steps In the past, USDA has had to ship TAS all over the country for processing: torrefaction occurred in Indiana, grinding occurred in Arkansas and then the product was shipped to Oregon for compound formulation. However, Wagner was able to find regional partners for his project. Still, a more local source is needed long-term for both research and scale. "To put torrefied almond shells into plastic or rubber we need to have a more integrated approach," said Huang. "Shipping ingredients to multiple processors is expensive, time-consuming and can sacrifice quality and consistency." Huang hopes this integrated solution might be an opportunity that an entrepreneur will embrace. In addition to rubber, ABC and USDA are also actively researching possibilities to add TAS to plastic products and advanced carbon materials. 3 For Wagner, his time in the Almond Leadership Program ended over a year ago, but his passion for this work is stronger than ever. "We need to find new uses for shells," he said. "It's really nice that the Almond Board sees the problem and is trying to get ahead of the game. And I want to be a part of that." A detailed overview of Wagner's project was featured in the November 2020 issue of Rubber World magazine, available online. 4 2 Learn more about presentations from the 2019 Leadership class: 3 4 When Wagner tested the TAS shaker pads during harvest, he found that while they performed well they did generate slightly more heat than the control rubber shaker pads. Photo courtesty of Wagner 2025 GOAL Almond Board of California 4

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