Creating Biofuel and Fish Food from Food Waste and Flies

American calorie consumption has increased by 25% since 1970 and, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, nearly one-third of all calories consumed during this time were lost to spoilage or plate waste. Olive Lynch, an entrepreneur from New Jersey, USA, started Green Waste Technologies to recapture some of those losses. Her mission: to create value out of something considered valueless.

She will accomplish this by feeding organic waste to the larvae of black soldier flies — an insect known for its ability to process twice its body weight per day. The larvae multiply and then get processed into a number of valuable products such as oil (insect biomass), which can be used for biofuel and/or a high-quality protein meal for farmed fish.

What follows is an exclusive interview with Olive about her unique method for producing fuel from food waste and flies:

How do you create biofuel from bugs?

I am not going to produce the biofuel. I will be selling the oil to a biofuel manufacturer. The oil from the larvae (they are 32% oil by weight) can be used to create mixed fuels. Larvae oil can be mixed with petroleum-based heating oils or used to create biodiesel by mixing it with methane.

Do you see this technology having much of an impact on the biofuel industry?

As more wastes are processed and the volume gets larger, the process would provide more feedstock oil to biofuel manufacturers that would be locally (USA) produced and would not compete with our food supply, like ethanol from corn.

Is the black soldier fly the best food processor in nature? What makes it special?

There may be other insects out there that can do what black soldier flies do, but their biology makes them a perfect fit. The adult fly is not a pest. It does not have a mouth, does not eat — so it doesn’t bother humans or animals or spread disease like the housefly. Because of this, the larvae have a much larger percentage of oil in their bodies (housefly larvae have 9% oil). Fly larvae by nature pretty much eat anything — they aren’t picky.

Worms are often used to compost organic matter. Do the flies work differently?

Worms actually eat the food waste after it’s decomposed. So, the food waste has to decompose (which takes time) before the worms can consume it. The fly larvae eat the food waste itself. So you feed them the waste, and they eat it that day. No waiting, no decomposition time.

What are you going to use the fly larvae for?

The fly larvae can produce several products: Chitin is a compound in their shells used in medical and other applications which is very valuable; the oil can be used for biofuel; and protein meal is a worm meal that can replace fish meal.

Is there any environmental benefit to the protein meal that comes from the larvae as food?

The aquaculture industry (farmed fish) uses fish meal — food that comes from fishing the ocean — as a major component in its fish food.  The demand for farmed fish for human consumption is increasing worldwide. As that demand rises, the demand for fish meal to feed the farmed fish also rises. The worm meal can replace the fish meal as protein, and at a cheaper cost.

What stage in your company’s development process are you at?

We have a location that we are fitting out to begin processing. In the next month, we will be applying for a Research, Development and Demonstration (RD&D) recycling certificate with the county and state for approval to accept food waste. Recycling is licensed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the county has to include recycling in their master waste management plan.

Our goal for the next six months is to breed soldier flies, test our prototype equipment, and ramp up the population. By spring 2012, we hope to be able to accept food waste from commercial haulers on a small scale to start (1 ton/day). By the end of the year, we hope to be processing 5-10 tons a day.

What have been the biggest obstacles to developing your technology?

It took five months and a few rejections before finding a location. Landlords don’t like recycling. It gets a bad “rap” because of recycling businesses failing and leaving a mess or being dirty. This is also a leading-edge technology. It’s new, so I understand people don’t get it. There is nothing to compare it to, it’s unknown, and that can make people nervous.

From banking to biomass, what prompted you to start up Green Waste Technologies?

I have a background in farming. My mother and I owned a horse farm for 15 years. I was researching organic dairy farming, recycling, and worms when I came across a scientific paper about the soldier flies used in processing pig manure. I started researching, realized the potential, and over the last two years I have developed designs, a business plan, and a business model.

With waste and flies as your main inputs, does this technology have low barriers to entry for someone wanting to start up this type of business?

There are home units out on the market where people can put their kitchen scraps into the unit, attract wild soldier flies, and process their kitchen waste. You could do something like this in your backyard or basement, but that wouldn’t make it a commercial venture.

Doing this business on a commercial scale requires a significant financial investment — you need the equipment, the location, the local zoning approvals, county and state approvals. It’s not cheap. Just the application fee for the RD&D license is $9,500 US.

Also, keep in mind that I’m in an R&D stage. I’ll be testing everything for the next nine months, which means I accept that there is no income being produced. This is a new feed type, there is no existing equipment you can buy — I’m doing everything from scratch.

I do envision that when I get the technology proven — that it works and makes money — at that point I could franchise or license to others wanting to get into this business. By that time, I would be able to work with people, mentor them, tell them how much they would need to start in this business, what steps are required, etc.

Where is green waste technology (GWT) headed in the future? Do you see any interesting applications for it?

In the beginning, GWT is primarily going to focus on large producers of waste. Just getting restaurants and other large waste producers to recycle would be a huge win, both economically and environmentally.

The same could be said for factory farm manure. If farmers could use larvae to consume their manure, instead of it leaching into our water supply, they would realize more income from their waste. I see that as a huge win.

As we get further along in our evolution and development as a company, we will continue R&D to determine other potential applications.