'The industrial scale will be in the many 10s of thousands of tons per annum'

Bühler and Protix align for 'breakthrough' in large scale insect production

'Protix showed us how big an opportunity insect protein is' - Bühler © Protix

Protix and Bühler have joined forces to develop "cost-effective, industrial scale" insect feed production technology.

The joint venture - Bühler Insect Technology Solutions – is located in Liyang in China; it has already begun operations.  

Bühler said the market for insect protein and lipids has huge potential: the group reckons that, by 2050, insects could account for 15% of global protein production. 

Insect protein – a viable alternative, says Bühler 

Nine billion people are expected to live on our planet by 2050. To feed them all in a sustainable way, we need more than 250 million tons of additional protein a year – an increase of 50% compared to today’s level. 

“But important natural resources are increasingly in short supply: At present, 30% of all fish stocks are considered overfished. Two-thirds of all vegetable proteins – and even 80% of the soybean harvest – is processed into animal feed for livestock. As more emerging countries prosper, meat consumption looks set to rise by nearly 50% by 2050.

“Adding to the challenge is the topic of waste: Today, some 30% of raw materials are lost or thrown away between the field and the plate. For these reasons, high hopes have been placed on alternative protein sources such as pulses or algae.

“One of the most promising sources to generate protein sustainably and with a low footprint is insects: Fly larvae or mealworms, for instance, are easy to breed and can be fed with organic waste. They are remarkably efficient at converting feed into protein and require little space to cultivate.”  

However, large scale processing of insects is still largely uncharted territory, so to boost this fledgling sector and scale the technology up to the requirements of large, industrial insect feed producers, the Swiss group said it teamed up with the Dutch insect ingredient developer.

The initial roll-out of the processing technology for feedstock processing, Black Soldier Fly (BSF) larvae rearing and larvae processing, is expected in around 12 months, said Ian Roberts, chief technology officer, the Bühler Group.

The JV, he said, will produce equipment and provide “know-how” – the target market is any feed producer or ingredient producer for the feed industry.

“The industrial scale will be in the many 10s of thousands of tons per annum,” said Roberts.

Win-win alliance

Bühler chose to align with Protix, which is based in Dongen in the Netherlands, as it had already "proven how to create a market in insect protein."

However, the alliance is mutually beneficial, said Roberts. 

“We had been monitoring insect based ingredient producers to determine which ones were interesting for us, and Protix was clearly able to demonstrate its operational expertise in the area of breeding, rearing and processing of insects. The company has proved it can do industrial-scale insect production in a way that is scalable and multipliable. It also showed us how big an opportunity insect protein is.

“Protix can leverage Bühler’s generations of engineering knowledge, its global reach and its customer based in the feed industry,” he told us.

The Swiss technology company also brings its long expertise in milling, one of the key steps for extracting protein from insects, to the JV table, said Roberts.

“We have been collaborating with Protix for the past year and a half,” he added.

Both companies have been actively involved in insect production since 2009 - Protix was founded that year and has since developed proprietary insect ingredient production equipment and processes, including methods for separating and extracting proteins and lipids from insects, while Bühler installed a pilot facility in China to process fly larvae and mealworms back then.

Kees Aarts, CEO of Protix, said the insect feed industry needs to pick up the pace as fast as possible, and this can be achieved more readily through an alliance of this nature. 

"We will continue to focus on producing our own high-quality products and innovations ... We have partnered with Bühler to ensure a larger customer base can be served with rearing and processing solutions. Through that, we believe the industry as a whole can accelerate at light speed, which offers huge opportunities for all of us," added Aarts.

China has ‘favorable regulations’

The partners decided to establish the joint venture in China principally because the use of insects for feeding animals has a longstanding tradition there, said Roberts, but also because acceptance of insects as feed for fish or poultry is very high in that market. 

He said China also offers favorable regulations for insect processing, whereas in many other countries, the legal framework for the use of insect-based feed has yet to be created.

Moreover, the Chinese market is large enough to quickly enable breakthrough in the industrial production of insects, stressed Roberts.

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