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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

 

Cara Bea Davidson

Scalability of a novel food waste conversion technology

There is a growing global food waste (FW) problem that needs to be addressed to ensure the sustainability of the food supply chain. Novel forms of FW valorisation are being developed as a potential mitigation approach to the ever-growing FW problem.

This study investigates the impacts associated with the scale up and out of one such process which utilises Black Soldier Fly (BSF) larvae for the bioconversion of FW into animal feed and nutrient-rich fertiliser. Entomics, a Cambridge-based start-up, is scaling their de-centralised BSF bioconversion process; however, there is limited knowledge of the scaling impacts of this process and the environmental impacts of using a de-centralised approach.

The current state of the BSF bioconversion process’s users, inputs and outputs, were mapped by means of a detailed research survey to identify the potential process scaling implications. The study goes on to explore the potential environmental impacts associated with scaling Entomics’ de-centralised system by applying a life cycle assessment (LCA) with a functional unit of 1 tonne of FW. A comparison was made of the outcomes of this LCA to those of a previous LCA conducted by Salomone et al. (2017) on a centralised operation.

The key tension points identified through the system mapping are the technical difficulties of breeding and harvesting BSF larvae sustainably to meet growing demands, and the process development restraints caused by FW management and insect-feed regulations. The results of the LCA comparison show that the potential environmental burdens associated with the BSF bioconversion process can be reduced by at least 45%, but not completely neutralised, using a de-centralised process operation as opposed to a centralised operation. Most of the environmental benefits of the de-centralised system arise from the reduced energy use and feed transport distances. In fact, there is a direct relationship between the reduction in distances for feed transport and the improvement of environmental impacts.

Scaling the BSF bioconversion process up and out using a de-centralised approach is a significantly more sustainable method for mitigating the current FW crisis and achieving food security. However, there is still much uncertainty about the future of the process. A multi-stakeholder approach, involving government, food producers and insect-farmers, is necessary to overcome industry and technological obstacles, and ultimately ensure sustainable development and implementation of this process.

This research and the recommendations made will guide Entomics in their scaling strategy. The methodology employed in this study could also be used to develop sustainable scaling strategies for other start-ups in the waste management sector.