Special Edition: Protein Alternatives

Insect protein production offers ‘viable alternative to landfill’

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© AgriProtein
© AgriProtein
Organic waste is the opportunity, says Jason Drew, co-founder of the Cape Town headquartered AgriProtein, as he predicts huge growth for the insect protein industry over the next 10 to 15 years.

“Insect production, while currently niche, will become mainstream eventually due to the amount of food waste generation globally,”​ he told us.

There is general consensus now that organic food waste needs to be diverted from landfill, given the fact it ends up rotting in landfills and producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas, he added.

Countries such as Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and Germany prohibit the sending of organic food waste to landfill, while the UK, Canada and markets in the Middle East have brought in reduction targets with the aim of diverting such surplus from landfill to recovery projects.

“What are going to do with our organic waste? Nutrient recycling of food waste is the most sustainable choice,”​ he said.

Using food surplus as a substrate for feeding insect larvae to produce a protein to replace fishmeal in chicken and fish feed is an effective way of closing the loop, a viable alternative to landfill, claimed the South African producer. 

agriprotein magmeal
AgriProtein's insect protein meal product, MagMeal

“The ideal setting for one of our factories is on brownfield sites in proximity to generated waste. Our goal is to have 100 insect factories in global locations by 2024, we can make a difference.”

Drew said AgriProtein’s standard insect factory can convert 91,000 tons of organic waste into 18,125 wet larvae, which is then dried to produce 5,000 tons of its protein product – MagMeal – per annum.

The company will take waste from food manufacturing plants, restaurants, universities and large-scale canteens. “For example, in Asia, near where we intend to set up an insect factory, there is an industrial site with 17 different canteens allowing us daily access to a huge volume of pre and post-consumer waste.”

Licencing model 

Christof Industries is AgriProtein’s Engineering, Procurement & Construction (EPC) partner, while local licensees of its technology in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas, will operate the insect plants. 

agriprotein bsf larvae

“We work with them to develop local waste streams, end users and [to secure] the planning approvals. They get a factory and we share in the revenue.”

Simon Houghton, head of licensing at AgriProtein, told us the company has appointed master licensees in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, North and South America.

“We also have directly appointed licensees in the following countries: Austria, Estonia, Turkey, Iran, Ukraine, Nigeria, South Africa, Chile, Saudi Arabia, India, UK and Zambia. All of these locations are in the process of initiating detailed organic waste audits. This process should be complete by June 2017 and we can then move to the next stage - detailed planning and EIA processes for each of the specific factory locations.”

Middle East waste management

Sustainable waste control is a big challenge for policymakers, urban planners and other stakeholders in the Middle East, and immediate steps are needed to tackle mountains of wastes accumulating in cities throughout the region, according to EcoMena.

Drew said AgriProtein wants to make a significant, positive impact in that region by changing the way in which protein is farmed, and waste is managed. Its 10-year goal for the Middle East includes the construction of 15 insect factories, in key markets.

It is looking to set up three such units in Saudi Arabia. “We have three locations ready to go – in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam. Shrimp farming on the Red Sea coast provides a real market for the meal. We are just awaiting regulatory approval. However the Saudi authorities back our production model, which they see as very much in line with their efforts to enhance food security, by reducing reliance on imported feeds, and, fortunately, very little water is required in our production process.”

The company is also awaiting the granting of environmental impact assessment (EIA) approvals before it can go ahead with construction projects in the US and Asia. “The first time around is always the challenge. The more you do it the easier it gets though.”

Drew anticipates faster granting of approvals in Asia. “The Vietnamese market is a real enabler of insect protein production. There is a long standing culture of consumption of insects there which helps hugely.”

Co-founder of AgriProtein, David Drew, has recently moved to Frankfurt to accelerate factory construction in Europe. “He is already scouting for locations there.”

He said while Europe is extremely focused on the regulation and control of the substrate used to rear insect larvae, other jurisdictions are more concerned about the safety of the end product.

Once proven in a market, insect protein sector will gain greater acceptance, he continued.

Research, trials

The company’s Cape Town operations are performing well, he added. “We have 22 employees involved in R&D projects there and we also have student based research going on as well. We are in the process up setting up similar R&D centers in Asia and North America.”

The Cape Town plant has been shipping product all over the world, and AgriProtein has been carrying out trials in various markets to support interest in the meal, he said.

“Producers want trials conducted under local conditions. We have been evaluating MagMeal in salmon and trout and in tilapia in different parts of the world and in barramundi in Australia. We have been testing it in broilers and layers as well, to determine which life stage would benefit most from the insect protein.”

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