Israel is a small nation nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. It contains geographically diverse features and has a unique atmosphere of past and future, simultaneously rooted in its rich history and set on the cutting edge of innovation. Although the country is only about the size of New Jersey and has limited natural resources, Israel a hub for entrepreneurship, home to more high-tech startups per capita than any other nation in the world. This culture of innovation (or "Israel effect") has been studied worldwide, and makes Israel an exciting place to work and study. Students will be located in Eilat, near the Red Sea.
Developing equipment for the processing of Argan Nuts
Argan oil is a very valuable oil produced from the nut of the Argan tree. An ounce is currently sold at about $4. The oil is used for cosmetics and recently there have been additional health claims that have been made about the oil. Most of the Argan oil is produced in Morocco largely based on traditional ways of cracking the nuts and processing the oil.
Agriculture based economic opportunities in southern Israel are limited due to the extreme climate of minimal precipitation and extreme water shortage, and poor soil quality. Currently, the Kibbutz economy is based on a variety of activities, including tourism, education, agriculture and services, but the most significant income is derived from date groves. Date groves require a large amount of water, and are fed from brackish ground water. This is not sustainable in the long term, and thus the Kibbutz is looking for alternatives that are more sustainable. It seems that Argan oil could be a viable candidate to replace the income derived from dates. Kibbutz Ketura has an experimental Argan grove, where they study ways to convert the Argan grove into an economically viable agricultural enterprise.
Israel and most of the Mediterranean countries have plenty of Olive trees that provide olives valued for their fruit and oil. Argan trees have similarities to olive trees and their fruits are similar, too. They fall to the ground once they are yellowed and ripe and are collected from the ground. To date pesticides have not been used since they have not encountered any pests so far.
The nut and its components:
- The outer shell is initially wet and dries out over time turning from fleshy and flexible to brittle and disintegrating when dried out. The weight of the outer shell constitutes 48% of the weight of the dried nut.
- The (inner) nutshell is smooth and shiny on the outside and rough on the inside. This shell is extremely hard. The weight of the inner shell constitutes 46% of the total weight of the nut.
- The kernel itself consists of a thin and delicate layer reminiscent of a peeled almond with a waxy consistency. The kernel constitutes 6% of the total weight and consists of 50% oil.
Parts of the process:
- Sorting the nuts by size: The size of Argan nuts varies to a large degree and if they are not sorted by size, they end up causing problems during the cracking process resulting in nuts that have not been cracked or nuts that splinter into a large number of small pieces. At the moment the nuts are being sorted by hand (for an expected amount of up to 2000 kg/year). The nuts are stored by size up to a 1000 kg per size.
- Cracking the nuts: Ketura purchased a machine that cracks the nuts between two plates, where the distance between the plates can be adjusted, but the plates cannot be touched without disassembling the whole machine. After cracking we are left with shell pieces and the inner nuts that have to be stored to protect them from sun, dust, animals etc.
- Separating the kernel from the shells: It is very important to remove the shells completely. Even a tiny shell splinter will plug up the oil press in the subsequent step. Kibbutz Ketura is looking for potential use of the shells which currently are considered agricultural waste. The kernels should be stored only for a few days in a dry place. They are kept in the ‘clean’ room, the press room.
The project opportunities consist of the development of machinery that will aid with the processing of the nuts, either with sorting, cracking or separation. More details will be available as we get closer to C'22.