Small bug, Big bite

Please don't be alarmed by the title! The bugs we are discussing don't deliver nasty bites or even have teeth but they are the champions of collective binging. Let’s start from the beginning…

 

Although they may be an unremarkable fly in many ways – segmented body, two wings, two huge compound eyes, two antennae – black solider flies are somewhat simpler versions of the flies that we normally think of. They don't have mouth, so they don’t spit and contaminate our food. They are not the most accomplished flyers, so instead of buzzing around they are sedentary for most of time, preferring to bask in the warming rays of the sun. For the rest of their life, they copulate, with the male flies exerting themselves to win female partners through an airborne and whirlwind like courtship ritual. After the former fertilises a fecund female, she will later lay hundreds of eggs and then their lives’ mission is accomplished.

The eggs are far too minuscule (well below 1mm in length, as pictured) to be seen well without a magnifier. They hatch within 2 to 3 days and gradually acclimate to the world for another couple of days before their feasting starts. The larvae feed quickly; their size can expand dramatically in both length and width in a week, growing from less than 3mg up to 300mg. Each larva consumes approximately 20% of their bodyweight per day. Not impressive? That’s equivalent to a 60kg human being binging more than 12kg of food each day!

Black solider fly larvae are excellent team workers. When watching videos of larvae finishing a huge pizza, a whole fish or massive mound of food in a blink of the eye, you might think that they simply keep eating nonstop day and night. In fact, one larva only gulps for about 5 minutes then takes a break for another 5 before resuming their dégustation. Therefore, while some larvae adjourn from devouring, other eager ones jump back in game, pushing from behind and lifting the gluttons up to get access to food. This continuous moving of the crowd forms a ‘living fountain’ against the cliff-face of the food mountain.

This collective binging makes black soldier fly larvae a perfect key to solve the global issue of food waste and can help to close the loop of the human food chain.

Tori Li

Researcher

Food waste in Australia

Food waste is an alarmingly voluminous problem worldwide whose effects can be mistakenly be downplayed. In a recent report, the National Food Waste Baseline, it was shown that Australia generates a colossal 7.3 billion kilograms of food waste per annum – that equates to almost 1kg wasted by each individual every day.

So where does it all come from? Two of the most extensive sectors are our farms and food manufacturers but the estimated most substantial contributors are our homes, discarding more than 1/3rd of all the food waste in Australia. More shockingly, the FAO estimates that in fact 1/3rd of all food produced globally is lost or discarded. It’s like consuming breakfast and lunch but throwing dinner in the bin, every day.

It is convenient to assume that food, being an easily biodegradable substance, will simply dissolve, evaporate and eventually disappear, leaving no trace of its former self. Disconcertingly, however, this is not so. As the food deliquesces it exudes considerable measures of greenhouse gasses, producing approximately 2kg of these environmentally harmful agents per kilo of food wasted. In more relatable terms, the environmental impact of 1 tonne of food waste is similar to that of the emissions from a car over a whole year. Put in context, we see that Australia’s annual food waste production is equivalent to running over 5,000,000 cars.

Now that we have established an image of the problem, we can consider the solutions. In Australia the ubiquitous approach is composting which is a low-energy process that reduces the environmental damage caused by food waste and creates beneficial soil additives which can contribute to a more circular economy. More wide-spread overseas but still present here, Anaerobic Digestion can offer an alternative mechanism for food waste recycling. The digestive process, propelled by beneficial bacteria, generates bio-gas which can be burned directly as a fuel source or converted into electricity.

At Karma3 we have developed a new approach: insect based bio-conversion of food waste. Engaging the formidable hunger of black soldier fly larvae, our technology transforms food waste into a sustainable protein source for animal feed. Just how sustainable? Research groups have illustrated that per kilogram of food waste, these systems can reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a mere 0.035kg – a reduction of over 98% compared to disposal to landfill.

Our facilities are deployable locally to tackle problems at their source and can process a comprehensive variety of food waste streams making them a constructive addition to the current integrative approach to food waste management. With a composition similar to fishmeal, our insect protein finds worth in the diets of many monogastric animals and every year exciting and novel research is demonstrating the potential health benefits of this protein.

With an estimated 50% of all food waste generated in Australia being discarded to landfill, we have a substantial but not insurmountable challenge to solve before we can earn our credentials as a world leader in sustainable food production. At Karma3 we endeavour to diversify the world’s approach to food waste recycling and help to secure a greener future for generations to come.

Martin Pike

COO

This is how we do it

The idea of not capturing nutrients after we have finished utilising the food we grow will seem as foreign to us as throwing plastic bottles out the car window while we drive along.

Karma’s vision of the future is a future where agriculture and waste management are sustainable, sufficient and local.

Karma will lead the world’s transition to sustainable agriculture and waste management through coupling the natural capabilities of insects with innovative technology. We are pioneering the creation of compelling insect-based products for people, plants and animals in the pursuit of a sustainable future.

This is how we plan to do it:

  1. Systems Thinking: Design and implement a basic proof of concept that insects can be reared in captivity, continuously and reliably from a mixture of waste streams

  2. Scale: Scale our system sufficiently to produce commercial quantities of insects

  3. Compelling Products: Create compelling products using insects that are saleable on a daily basis to prove the market demand

  4. Armed with a proven business model, build the largest waste-bioconversion facility in the world

  5. Verticals: Systems will include next-level aquaponic setups to effectively turn waste into a products found on supermarket shelves

James Sackl

CEO