Some black soldier fly (BSF) producers are moving forward and developing value-added products from insect meal, as we have learned from the recent F3 Challenge, and others, such as Full Circle Biotechnology, are producing insect meal in a different way. The company is the first to combine solid-fermentation with BSF production.
In 2017, when the EU started to promote the use of BSF in aquaculture, Felix Collins, founder and managing director of Full Circle Biotechnology, was in Thailand. The country has been farming insects for hundreds of years, mainly silkworms, and thought to farm insects in Thailand and export them to the EU since nobody was doing it. In 2019, he planned to build the first BSF facility in Thailand but with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the plan was put on hold.
“In 2019, the price of fishmeal in Thailand was very low and to compete with it, we thought there might be something else to do with the core premix for BSF,” Collins told Aquafeed.com. “We were looking for bacteria and fungi that do similar things but on a much lower scale which took us to a fermentation. We created a sorted ecosystem with around ten different species of bacteria and fungi that work alongside BSF.”
In a 2021, after a year of testing, results showed lower costs than traditional BSF production. Moreover, yield was ten times higher than with BSF meal. “For every 100 kg of food waste put into the system, traditional BSF gets around 3-7 kg of protein and we were getting 20-25 kg of protein. It also means that the carbon footprint is lower, 30 times lower than traditional BSF meal originally. Now, 42% of the time we are carbon-negative,” Collins said. “That also has an impact on the price being 10% below fishmeal and we still make the margins we need as a business.”
After these positive results, the company set up a testing facility in Bangkok with a production capacity of ten tons per month. The product combines BSF meal and bacteria meal with additional probiotics, making it very different from other BSF meals. Thanks to the fermentation technology, the protein meal can achieve at least 65% of protein content. The system is also very resilient and can be adapted to the protein content the customer needs.
Currently, there are 48 shrimp farms in Thailand testing the meal in the field. In the lab, a diet containing a 2% ratio of the product increased vannamei weight by an average of 17% more than a control diet. In the field, the company is also seeing an increase in survivability. Through its recent partnership with Hydroneo, the company is also getting anonymized data back from farmers, while testing the Hydroneo channel.
The company also sees fish and is currently running a trial in tilapia in Singapore. “We are also looking at terrestrial species, with poultry and swine as the biggest markets in Asia, but in terms of core impact, replacing fishmeal in aquafeeds is the best thing to do,” Collins said.
In terms of price, the company thinks that the only way to make it work in terms of impact is by being more affordable. “Our current price strategy is being beneath fishmeal by a certain percentage with sustainability as a bonus,” Collins said. “Large feed companies are starting to squeeze their suppliers to cut their emissions which drives the supplier costs up and also the price of ingredients. However, we don’t want to go with a high price for sustainability because I don’t think it works, maybe in some fancy products in Europe, but in the real world, I don’t think companies will be paying more.”
Full Circle is currently planning to produce sizeable tonnage, initially 250 tons per month and scale to 500 tons in the next year, and assessing other opportunities in other countries. The company’s core business is Thailand but is also seeing opportunities in other areas with similar temperatures in Asia and South America and also a pilot in Europe.
“In Europe, the issue with regulations is our fermentation process that involves many different bacteria. Since it is not a traditional activity such as wine and cheese, it costs around EUR 500,000 to enter the European market mostly for consultancy fees. It does not make sense for us to penetrate Europe but what makes sense us for is to develop a better relationship with regulators. It is less of a market strategy and more of a long-term literature strategy,” Collins said.
Full Circle secured backing from Norwegian investment company, Katapult, and is supported by Asia Sustainability Angels and hopes to raise a new round of funding soon for further growth.