The Thailand based startup employs technology that allows agricultural waste to be upcycled by microbes and insect larvae.
The company’s Black Boxes, 1,500 square meter IoT-enabled automated facilities, are designed to allow any farmer to run their own sustainable protein mini-factory. Full Circle monitors and constantly measures the process.
In this protein production system, agricultural waste is combined with a Black Soldier Fly (BSF) treatment and put through a precision fermentation procedure. After the bioprocessing, the raw material is dried, processed and packaged. There is no costly or energy-intensive protein-extraction and yield rates are significantly higher than those seen in conventional BSF farming, according to the developer.
Full Circle is located in Bangkok, but it is registered in Singapore; it was founded by Briton, Felix Collins, and has received funding from impact investors.
The team comprises 14 experts, one of those is Dr Shivan Chetty - he is the company's CSO and brings an extensive biological product development and systems design background to the table.
Collins, a serial entrepreneur, has been working with black soldier flies since 2017. He was among the first to commercially farm them in Thailand.
Jumping over hurdles
The initial phase of the business was not without its challenges. In Thailand, the price of fishmeal is low, one of the lowest in the world. So, competing with fishmeal via BSF based technology at the outset was difficult.
During the Covid-19 lockdowns, Collins set about finding the most efficient system he could use to become price competitive with fishmeal, and, through consultation, he determined that by combining solid-state fermentation (SSF) and BSF technology, it would be possible to create a massive amount of protein.
The yield rates that this combination can achieve are unprecedented:
“For every 100 kilos of food waste coming into the system, with traditional BSF meal, the yield rates used to be 2.5 kilos, but the team at [UK company] Entocycle recently told us they are getting closer to 6 kilos of protein. We're getting 20-25 kilos of protein [with our system] and we think we can probably push it even higher. So that allows us to be price competitive,” the entrepreneur told us.
The substrates that Full Circle uses in its rearing process would be mainly plant-based but it has also incorporated an animal-based ingredient – feathers – into its system.
“I think we are the first BSF company in the world to prove that we could use feathers; you can enrich the quality of that protein through SSF.”
Demand locally is huge, he continued.
“With our deployable factories we are taking advantage of the fact that we can produce a lot of protein using very little amount of space, less than half the size of a football pitch. We can deploy our black boxes anywhere in the world, but our first big corporate deal involves deploying three of these facilities in Thailand.”
Its black boxes can produce around 500 tons of BSF meal per month.
The company will look to expand internationally eventually. “We are hoping to deploy the black boxes in moderate, temperate climates as well."
Full Circle is highly focused on aquaculture production in terms of target markets. That is where the company can get the most impact due to the higher inclusion rates of fishmeal in aqua feed formulations, said Collins.
Its researchers have been exploring the intricate relationship between nutrition and shrimp growth, using a feed component based on its BSF technology.
“We were doing kind of run-of-the-mill tests with Kasetsart University [in Bangkok] and we found that the growth of [Pacific White] shrimp fed 2% insect feed as an additive skyrocketed. We're trying to replicate those results in the field now; tests have got underway.”
As well as securing backing from Norwegian investment company, Katapult VC, the startup has been supported by Asia Sustainability Angels, a group co-founded by Adam Sack, who is the chief investment officer for the IFC, part of the World Bank Group, and climate-tech investor, Mark Inkster.
“They are really competent, incredibly intelligent investors, and we use their expertise as much as we can.”
To date, the company has raised $1.25m through pre-seed funding.
“Normally, pre-seed funding is used to build the team and test the market, from where you would then go to Series A funding when you are more certain [that you have buyers for your products]. We know that we have a market because we've got orders that we won't be able to fulfil for years, and that's quite a luxury in the world of startups.”
Asked about next steps for Full Circle, he said: “Now it is about playing our cards right, and trying to act sensibly, but also quickly, being very diligent with the science and being diligent with the fundraising. When you're a startup, diligence really makes you stand out nowadays.”