Insect cultivation solution to global food crisis

Man leaning on bags with fishmeal

Protix produces high-quality protein for animal feed using larvae cultivated on vegetable waste. Insect cultivation is already common practice for small-scale production, for example for the angling industry. Protix hopes to be the first company to cultivate larvae for protein at an industrial scale for the production of animal feed.

In order to be able to implement a large-scale production system that meets the stringent European regulations and quality requirements, the company secured seed capital from Brabant Life Sciences Seed Fonds, a fund that participates in RVO.nl’s Seed Capital scheme. The company also applied for a €2,000,000 Innovation Credit for the development of the requisite advanced technology.
‘Our product may contribute to reducing the global food problems and waste problems,’ explains founder Tarique Arsiwalla. ‘There is a protein crisis. All organisms need protein to survive, but there is not enough of it to supply the expanding world population in the long term. High-quality protein from meat and fish is becoming increasingly scarcer and overfishing the world’s oceans will not solve the problem. We have developed a new type of high-quality protein based on insect larvae.’

Meat substitute

This protein can also be used to replace fishmeal in animal feed. However, the company sees opportunities for the production of food products for human consumption too. ‘Insects can be used as meat substitutes. There are psychological barriers to this among people in the western world, however these can be overcome if we create the right products. In the short term we envisage selling our product for use as a high-quality ingredient in feed for poultry, fish and pets, however applications for human food may well follow quickly.

Feeding

Until recently, the larvae were fed semi-automatically on the basis of visual observation. ‘If we want to deploy our technology for global production then we will need to automate the entire process, preferably in a dynamic system. With dynamic, we mean that the computer can respond to the behaviour of the larvae, for example, allowing us to more accurately determine where and how much feed needs to be provided to the larvae. Because these are living organisms whereby the knowledge of the cultivator is critical in this early stage, this is going to be a real challenge.’

Industrial scale

The production process will have to be scaled up to the industrial level to attract potential customers and future partners with whom Protix can build new factories. Instead of tens of tonnes, the company plans to produce thousands of tonnes annually. ‘Potential customers need to be sure that we have the entire production process under control,’ says Arsiwalla. ‘We applied for an Innovation Credit and sought extra private capital to enable us to scale up to a commercial production process.’ This financial injection enabled Protix to invest in a larger production facility.

Risks

‘During the preliminary talks it soon became clear that RVO.nl is interested in this development, however they did ask us to provide more information on our business model and the risks involved in each of the various phases,’ he continues. ‘That first interview was reason for us to return to the drawing board and meticulously identify all the risks. Our efforts were rewarded: we started receiving Innovation Credit funding in 2015. We are now also validating and improving the sub-processes separately, starting with the most critical components. We then design the interfaces and join the sub-processes together into an operational system.’

Promising tech pioneer

The world leading technology developed by Protix has been attracting considerable attention. At the World Economic Forum (WEF) the company was acclaimed one of the 49 most promising global tech pioneers. The Dutch company received this award because of the positive and potentially huge impact the product may have on society.

Earlier this year, Protix also won the ‘Go Multinational’ competition organised by Schiphol Airport, whereby they were provided an office and a media budget for a month in order to go to Chile and conquer the market for fish farm feed there. Chile is one of the world’s major producers of farmed salmon.


Photo: Kees Aarts, one of the founders of Protix Biosystems. Photographer: Marie-Thérèse Kierkels

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