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A scalable and spatiotemporally resolved agricultural life cycle assessment of California almonds

  • Author(s): Marvinney, E
  • Kendall, A
  • et al.

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Purpose: California’s Central Valley produces more than 75% of global commercial almond supply, making the life cycle performance of almond production in California of global interest. This article describes the life cycle assessment of California almond production using a Scalable, Process-based, Agronomically Responsive Cropping System Life Cycle Assessment (SPARCS-LCA) model that includes crop responses to orchard management and modeling of California’s water supply and biomass energy infrastructure. Methods: A spatially and temporally resolved LCA model was developed to reflect the regional climate, resource, and agronomic conditions across California’s Central Valley by hydrologic subregion (San Joaquin Valley, Sacramento Valley, and Tulare Lake regions). The model couples a LCA framework with region-specific data, including water supply infrastructure and economics, crop productivity response models, and dynamic co-product markets, to characterize the environmental performance of California almonds. Previous LCAs of California almond found that irrigation and management of co-products were most influential in determining life cycle CO eq emissions and energy intensity of California almond production, and both have experienced extensive changes since previous studies due to drought and changing regulatory conditions, making them a focus of sensitivity and scenario analysis. Results and discussion: Results using economic allocation show that 1 kg of hulled, brown-skin almond kernel at post-harvest facility gate causes 1.92 kg CO eq (GWP ), 50.9 MJ energy use, and 4820 L freshwater use, with regional ranges of 2.0–2.69 kg CO eq, 42.7–59.4 MJ, and 4540–5150 L, respectively. With a substitution approach for co-product allocation, 1 kg almond kernel results in 1.23 kg CO eq, 18.05 MJ energy use, and 4804 L freshwater use, with regional ranges of 0.51–1.95 kg CO eq, 3.68–36.5 MJ, and 4521–5140 L, respectively. Almond freshwater use is comparable with other nut crops in California and globally. Results showed significant variability across subregions. While the San Joaquin Valley performed best in most impact categories, the Tulare Lake region produced the lowest eutrophication impacts. Conclusion: While CO eq and energy intensity of almond production increased over previous estimates, so too did credits to the system for displacement of dairy feed. These changes result from a more comprehensive model scope and improved assumptions, as well as drought-related increases in groundwater depth and associated energy demand, and decreased utilization of biomass residues for energy recovery due to closure of bioenergy plants in California. The variation among different impact categories between subregions and over time highlight the need for spatially and temporally resolved agricultural LCA. 2 2 100 2 2 2 2

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