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Transforming Food Waste from a Burden into a Resource (Posted by Shell LiveWIRE Winner, Matt McLaren)

Tue, 02 February 2016

Each year in the UK, more than one third of all food purchased ends up as food waste – enough to fill nine Wembley Stadiums to the brim.
Disposing of this waste represents a significant burden on UK society, directly costing the average household £400 per year and the Food & Hospitality industry £10,000 per outlet. It also accounts for over 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.
 
Unfortunately, most food waste currently ends up as landfill, which is by far the most expensive, and least sustainable solution.

Yet even modern alternatives to landfill, like Anaerobic Digestion, are capital intensive, require heavy government subsidies, and downgrade the chemical complexity of food waste to an assortment of simple molecules like methane, which has low energy density and little commercial value. 
 
All of this means that food waste is currently priced at negative cost – as of yet, it has not been harnessed as a commercially viable waste resource like metal, paper or plastic.
 
While studying at the University of Cambridge, a few friends and I hypothesized how we might extract maximum value out of this ubiquitous yet massively underutilised waste stream. Surely such a chemically rich and diverse biomass must have a more important role to play? As it so often does, nature presented a powerful and elegant solution.
 
Entomics aims to transform food waste into three sustainable fuels for plants, animals and vehicles… using insects. 
 
This transformation is achieved by leveraging the power of the Black Soldier Fly (BSF). BSF larvae efficiently convert organic waste into chemically complex fats and proteins inside their bodies. These compounds can then be refined into three high value products – biodiesel, high-protein animal feed and organic bio-pesticide – in a cheap, scalable and sustainable process. 
 
We plan to significantly reduce carbon emissions from food waste relative to Anaerobic Digestion – the ‘greenest’ current disposal method – as well as save costs for both consumers and producers. The products arising from this circular ‘waste to resources’ concept – biodiesel, animal feed and bio-pesticide – also address existing Indirect Landuse Change (ILUC) concerns linked to unsustainable production and consumption patterns within each industry. 
 
Overall, this concept could be a significant positive disruption to the current food waste landscape, and an innovative way of creating real value. It is our hope that food waste might finally be viewed as a resource, not a burden.
 
About Matt McLaren (Co-founder of Entomics)

Matt is the co-founder of Entomics, a business which is pioneering the transformation of food waste into sustainable sources of fuel for plants, animals and vehicles. Instead of breaking food waste down, they’re building it up into more complex and valuable chemical compounds using insects. Using food waste as the input and the Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia Illucens) as the key catalyst, their process generates biodiesel from modified insect fats, with high protein animal feed and fertiliser/biopesticide arising as side products. The business won a Shell LiveWIRE Smarter Future Award in September 2015.
 
You can find out more about Matt and Entomics on Twitter or on their website.  
 

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