One industry’s food waste is a raw material for another. Cambridge start-up Entomics thinks it has found an interesting and innovative way to convert waste into valuable compounds using black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens).
Supported by the Agri-Tech East network it has secured a trial site at the new AgriGate Research Hub managed by NIAB at Hasse Fen to scale-up its technology.
Matt McLaren (pictured below at REAP 2015), co-founder of Entomics, explains: “Destruction of food waste is problematic as it is mixed with packaging and can be a health issue.
“Flies are attracted to food waste and we wondered if there was any way to exploit this. Currently, leftover food is placed in landfill or made into compost and this is not the most efficient way to use this resource.”
The four founders of Entomics, all students at the University of Cambridge, first met when they entered the Cambridge University Technology and Entrepreneurship Club’s (CUTEC) Sustainable Futures Challenge. Studying biochemistry, business, biology and engineering meant they each brought unique insights to the food waste problem.
Matt explains: “The black soldier fly is a common species in the UK and its larvae are ultimate conversion catalysts. In just two weeks they can break down food waste and build it back up into complex and valuable compounds within their bodies.”
“After deciding that flies as a conversion catalyst offered the best solution to food waste, we started to look at ways to extract these substances and what they can be used for.
“Our research showed that the fat could be refined into biodiesel or basic oil, the protein can be used to produce a nutritional supplement for livestock and what is left over makes an excellent fertiliser-biopesticide.”
The four students won the competition and decided to move the idea from paper to practise.
Support from Agri-Tech East
Throughout the sustainability challenge they’d had access to academics to help shape and discuss the strength of the idea. Furthermore, they managed to gain access to the Accelerate Cambridge start-up accelerator programme at the Judge Business School.
Being based in the East of England, the agricultural hub of the UK, meant Entomics hit the ground running. Matt says: “Agri-Tech East has been amazing; its Director, Belinda Clarke, has introduced us to agricultural scientists, businesses and farmers to give us insights into how the industry functions, from top to bottom.
“To understand agriculture as a business means we can work out how to place ourselves in the commercial world.
“Now we’re checking out the viability of our idea. The space we’ve secured at the AgriGate facility means we will be able to conduct a more formal research and development programme to demonstrate proof of concept.”
Benefits of AgriGate Research Hub
Belinda Clarke is delighted to see Entomics become established at the AgriGate Research Hub. With NIAB’s support the new research centre is dedicated to reducing crop and food waste and improving resource use efficiency in the horticultural and fresh produce supply chains.
Belinda comments: “Entomics is just the sort of innovative business that will benefit from the resources at AgriGate and they are already attracting the interest of many in the agri-food chain. We look forward to seeing them develop their concepts further.”
Matt agrees: “We really believe that our idea will have far reaching implications for getting the most out of our food waste”