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Insect farming

Marine Institute, partners converting new source of organic waste into commercial products


By Moira Baird and Dr. Heather Burke

The Marine Institute is collaborating with a pair of global companies to develop a new, sustainable source of processing discards that can be converted into high-value compounds for the agriculture, medical and nutraceutical industries.

From left are Dr. Pedram Dehdari, managing director of Ensymm; Dr. Heather Burke, director CASD; and Wade Murphy, CASD’s facility supervisor of marine bioprocessing.
Photo: Submitted

That new source is a common insect known as the black soldier fly (BSF).

Insect farms using BSF larvae are transforming organic waste into alternative proteins and oils for aquaculture and animal feed. These insect farms produce their own waste in the form of BSF pupae exoskeletons.

“This represents a new raw material source for chitin and chitosan as an alternative to crustacean sources, such as shrimp and crab shells,” said Heather Burke, director of the Centre for Aquaculture and Seafood Development (CASD) at the Marine Institute

“Huge insect farms are being developed globally to breed, farm and refine these products out of this very sustainable fly that feeds on waste. These BSF farms don’t need to use other scarce foods, such as forage fish, that when used as animal feed can cause harm to the environment and wild stocks in nature.”

A blend of pupae exoskeletons from black solider flies before the chitin extraction process.
Photo: Submitted

New tests

For the past two decades, CASD has collaborated with German life science biotechnology company, Ensymm UG and Co., on extracting chitin from shellfish waste and processed into high-value compounds such as chitosan.

Chitin is further converted into chitosan, a commercially valuable biopolymer with antibacterial and antifungal properties used in the agriculture and biomedical sectors and in wastewater treatment.

The partners jointly offer lab scale and pilot-scale trials for crustacean processing to the seafood industry.

Last year, they conducted new pilot-scale trials at CASD’s bioprocessing research facilities in St. John’s — this time extracting chitosan from BSF pupae exoskeletons for Australian-based Future Green Solutions.

Unique expertise

“We are proud to have run the first BSF chitosan lab and pilot scale processing trials in 2021 for our client, Future Green Solutions,” said Dr. Pedram Dehdari, managing director of Ensymm.

Black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens)
Photo: Istock

“Based on their BSF pupae exoskeletons, the BSF chitosan shows commercial potential. Through our unique collaboration, we can provide services up to the pre-engineering phase to set up commercial-scale chitosan and related by-product plants worldwide. With our unique expertise in crustacean bio-extractions, BSF farms have also shown interest in trying our process on BSF pupae exoskeletons to determine its potential as a raw material source for chitosan.”

Wade Murphy running part of the extraction process at CASD’s bioprocessing pilot plant.
Photo: Submitted

Promising results

Future Green Solutions (FGS) is a global leader in developing black soldier fly farms to convert food waste into feed.

“Future Green Solutions was the first BSF farming company worldwide to order a full lab and pilot scale trial by the Ensymm-Marine Institute team to evaluate and explore the potential of chitosan extraction from the black solder fly pupae exoskeletons,” said Luke Wheat, founder and managing director, FGS.

“We achieved very promising results extracting commercially valuable chitosan. Further tests and optimizations are already in the planning stage. This will provide a roadmap for a potential commercial production facility to diversify the product range based on BSF waste — allowing FGS to supply new markets with new applications.”

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