January 16, 2017
Buhler forms joint venture to produce insect meal in China
Buhler and Protix, an insect production company, have founded Buhler Insect Technology Solutions in Liyang, China.
As the global population grows, so does the necessity for alternative, sustainably-generated protein sources. Insects provide a natural and sustainable protein source that will contribute to closing the future protein gap.
The Buhler-Protix joint venture will develop scalable, industrial solutions for the rearing and processing of insects to provide protein primarily for animal feed. Buhler Insect Technology Solutions has already begun operations.
"By combining the knowledge and experience of our two companies, we can provide industrial insect processing solutions to address the alternative protein market," explains Ian Roberts, CTO of Buhler. "Together, we can develop both sustainable and cost-effective solutions for large-scale insect producers and processors that cover the whole value chain," adds Kees Aarts, CEO of Protix.
By 2050, to feed the world population of nine billion in a sustainable way, more than 250 million tonnes of additional protein a year is needed – 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 — are processed into animal feed. 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. Another promising source 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.
Because of these advantages, insects have attracted considerable attention from start-ups and established players in the food industry in recent years. One of them is Protix, which was founded in 2009 in the Netherlands. In just a few years, the company developed proprietary equipment and solutions from the breeding and rearing cycle, to the separation and extraction of proteins and lipids from insects. Its pilot plant processes 1,600 tonnes of insect larvae per year and produces high quality, insect-based ingredients. The company was recognised as a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum in 2015.
Roberts comments, "Buhler has a strong, established business providing technologies for animal feed, and protein from the insects can be used in pellets, or directly as animal feed. With our global market access, technology base, and engineering capabilities, combined with the deep knowledge, experience and entrepreneurial flair of Protix, we have the ingredients for a successful commercial partnership."
The initial focus of the joint venture will be on larvae of the Black Soldier Fly, which is famed for its impressive ability to transform organic waste products into high-quality protein. Subsequently there will be a diversification to other insects, such as mealworms. The insect proteins will be used primarily for the production of sustainable animal feed, for example in aquaculture, which is the fastest growing agricultural segment in the world. The market for insect processing solutions has huge potential – by 2050, insects could account for 15% of global protein production, Buhler says.