Company turns insect-based biorefining into reality

Company turns insect-based biorefining into reality

A French company that farms insects has gone from incubation in 2011 to the construction of a full-scale demonstration biorefinery in late 2015. On the way, the company, Ynsect, has collected a number of eco-innovation awards and serious financial backing, including a €2 million investment from France's Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME), which was agreed at the end of 2015.

At its biorefinery, at Dole near Dijon in eastern France, Ynsect will raise and process mealworm beetles and other insects, turning them into protein, fats and chitin. The products of the biorefinery will have a range of uses, including as food for humans.

To feed the fast-growing beetles at the biorefinery, Ynsect will take in waste food that might otherwise go to landfill. Insects have “have the perfect enzymatic system to bioconvert those materials. We just give them what they would eat naturally,” according to the company. Ynsect will therefore follow circular economy principles in generating value from material that would otherwise be considered waste.

The insect larvae are harvested and processed into protein, fats and chitin. Protein and fats from the operation can be turned into animal feed, for example for fish farming, and can be made into pet food and plant feed. It can also in principle be powderised and used in human food, though in the European Union this would have to go through an authorisation process. So far, no insect-based food has been authorised in the EU.

Insect-based compounds also hold great promise for pharmaceuticals and green chemistry. Chitin, for example, can be turned into biopolymers and used to make biodegradeable plastics and coatings. Another venture, the BEACON biorefining project in the United Kingdom, is working on extracting chitin from crab shells and putting it to use as a natural polymer (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/ecoap/about-eco-innovation/good-practices/eu/20140506-beacon_en).

Ynsect believes that its biorefinery can produce insect-based products with little environmental impact. Insect farming takes up relatively little space, and the inputs are wastes from other industries. As a resource, insect-based food and feed could start to replace animal-based food and feed, leading to reduced greenhouse gas emissions from the raising of livestock. If insect-based food is used in fish farming, for example, the amount of soya used as fish food could be reduced, meaning less pressure on land for soya production. Biopolymer products from insects, meanwhile, could reduce the need for plastics derived from petrochemicals.

Further information: http://www.ynsect.com/