ISC3

Eco Nutrient Biotechnology Company Ltd. upcycles restaurant waste with insect larvae

ISC3 – International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre

The Hong-Kong-based start-up Eco-Nutrient Biotechnology Company Ltd. and its Foshan-based subsidiary, Little Fat Worm Biotechnology Company Ltd. are redefining waste management, using restaurant waste to breed larvae that are then processed and upcycled into numerous products, such as animal feed and even crude oil substitutes.

1. Recycling restaurant waste: The larvae grow for eight days

2. Portfolio of products from Eco-Nutrient Biotechnology Company Ltd: fat and proteins that can replace soya and fish in animal feed

3. Ernest Ming (right, behind) and his team

4. Food resource: Restaurant waste

With their new approach, organic waste management becomes more sustainable, efficient, and even more profitable. For these reasons, Eco-Nutrient Biotechnology Company Ltd. has been chosen as the ISC3 start-up of the month for July 2020.

Insects are the answer

In 2015, the two founders, Kevin and Ernest Ming, realised that a relatively "small" city, such as Hong Kong, which counts approximately eight million inhabitants, already generates over 3,000 tons of food waste every day. Now multiply this with the sheer size of mainland China, the largest economy in the world, and you can imagine the amount of waste that continually needs to be processed. Ernest’s professional background in material engineering and waste management, and Kevin’s over 30 years of expertise in developing waste management solutions in Asia, led the two founders to think about solving this massive organic waste problem. Eventually, an Italian friend, who was investing in crowd-funded insect businesses, sparked an all-new idea for them. Instead of relying on bacteria and microbes for anaerobic digestion of organic waste, which is rather unprofitable and inefficient, they came up with introducing insects as an option to organically upcycle low-value organic waste back into something precious, such as energy and advanced materials. Their research on insect species capable of doing this led them to a wasp-like fly species named Hermetia illucens, more commonly known as "Black Soldier Fly" or "BSF" in short. BSF itself is not a pest. It does not bite, sting or contaminate food, and it is incapable of passing disease, which makes it a perfect candidate in converting organic waste into a whole series of brand-new products with a zero-waste balance.

Untapped applications

As for the process, the insect larvae are fed with organic food waste. Within eight days, the food waste is efficiently processed. The larvae are then harvested and killed by either blanching or freezing, followed by careful drying to preserve all nutrients contained in them. The dried larvae then undergo a defatting process which separates the fat from the protein. The protein is milled into powder while the fat undergoes refining to remove any contaminants. "The insect-derived fat is a crude oil substitute that is found to be very high in lauric acid, a very commonly used antimicrobial for pharmaceutical companies, used in the production of ointments for example," Ernest explains. Eco-Nutrient Biotechnology Company Ltd. currently uses the fat and the protein as a feed additive to substitute traditional soya and fish derivative in animal feed, because they have very good nutritious properties and can actively contribute to invigorating animals against various diseases. However, many more interesting applications for the insect derivatives are being explored, ranging from the extraction of beneficial amino acids and chitosan in biotechnology to specialised material engineering such as next-generation fire extinguishing materials, bio-plastics for bio-packaging, aviation biodiesel, and other advanced materials.

A game-changer in waste management

Eco-Nutrient Biotechnology Company Ltd. aims at leading the way for sustainable waste management by substituting traditional organic waste treatment technologies, such as WTE, landfill, and biogas with its insect-based approach. Traditionally, organic waste is processed through microbial-based digestion methods, such as composting for fertilisers, landfilling or biogas for electricity. However, these take a rather long time, require a large area and produces secondary wastes that need to be treated. Considerable quantities of greenhouse gases, such as CO2 and methane are also produced. Eco-Nutrient’s solution, on the other hand, produces much less greenhouse gases contributing to a more positive CO2 balance. It is more economical, much quicker, uses less land and produces no waste.

Advancing the SDGs through sustainable chemistry solutions

It does not surprise that European and Asian corporate partners from the fields of sustainable animal manure, bio-diesel production for aviation, city sustainability management, and several university institutions have shown big interest in the start-up’s approach and its deriving innovations. Ernest and Kevin already receive orders for products and product samples and work with the partners on further research, proof-of-concept and techno-economic analysis. Just recently, the start-up also secured several patents and has now started actively looking for venture capital support to scale. Thanks to its innovations, Eco-Nutrient Biotechnology Company Ltd. is actively contributing to the SDGs 2 (zero hunger), 6 (clean water & sanitation), 9 (industry, innovation & infrastructure), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 12 (responsible consumption & production), 13 (climate action), 17(partnerships). It was on-boarded to the ISC3 Global Start-up Service in May 2019, following their showcase and pitch at an innovation session organised by the ISC3 at AchemAsia 2019 in Shanghai, China.