"Waste"-to-Energy for Decarbonization - Transforming Nut Shells Into Carbon-Negative Electricity

Daniel Carpenter, Eric Tan, Abhijit Dutta, Reinhard Seiser, Stephen Tifft, Michael O'Banion, Greg Campbell, Rick Becker, Carrie Hartford, Jayant Khambekar, Neal Yancey

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter presents a study demonstrating waste pistachio nut shells as a renewable feedstock for climate-friendly electricity generation via industrial gasification technology. The study includes biomass feedstock characterization (i.e., pistachio waste critical material attributes), process variability (i.e., bulk material handling), and overall operational reliability and conversion performance through extended testing. Additionally, techno-economic analysis (TEA) and life cycle assessment (LCA) were performed to assess the economic feasibility and environmental impact of the technology to transform agricultural waste to biopower. For processing pistachio waste material, among critical material attributes, fines content in the biomass (<1/4”) had the largest potential to reduce the operating time of the gasifiers due to plugging. Pelletizing fines and co-feeding them with the mixed pistachio waste increased the average feed density, feed rate, and biochar production. Compared to pine wood chips, mixed pistachio waste yielded higher biochar quantity but slightly reduced quality. In general, a systematic Quality by Design methodology is the preferred approach for designing preprocessing and material conveyance systems, where a downstream technology (end user) for the produced intermediate is specified at the outset. TEA results show that the biochar production rate and selling price had an overwhelming impact on the modeled Minimum Electricity Selling Price (MESP), which ranged from 35.5 to 39.9 ¢/kWh for the cases studied (16 h/day operational basis). Moreover, LCA results show that the valorization of pistachio shells for biopower generation is a “carbon negative” process that can help decarbonize the U.S. electricity grid. The specific carbon intensity was −0.29 to −0.71 kg CO2e/kWh, compared to 0.45 kg CO2e/kWh for the average U.S. electricity mix. Biochar production from pistachio waste as a potential means for carbon sequestration was a significant driver for the LCA. The highly stable biochar permanently sequesters a considerable fraction of biochar carbon in the ground, more than enough to offset the life cycle emissions, and can be a complementary climate change mitigation strategy.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationSustainability Engineering
Subtitle of host publicationChallenges, Technologies, and Applications
EditorsE. C. D. Tan
PublisherCRC Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781000914146
ISBN (Print)9780367766009
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 selection and editorial matter, Eric C.D. Tan.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CH-5100-84514


  • bio-char
  • downdraft
  • gasification
  • pistachio
  • renewable electricity


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