Sustainability of insect ingredients demonstrated

The opening of InnovaFeed’s industrial-scale insect production facility and the publication of its Life Cycle Analysis – the first one based on actual production data from an industrial-scale facility – demonstrates the sustainability of its insect ingredients and points out the differences in environmental impacts between production models.

Chloé Phan Van Phi
Head of Sales and Marketing

Global food production has nearly tripled since 1960 to meet the demand of a growing population, and diet evolution has led to an increased need for animal products: fish and meat consumption per capita doubled between 1960 and 2018. This increasing demand for animal protein also stimulated the demand for feed ingredients thereby intensifying the pressure on limited natural resources.

In this context, the FAO points out the urgent need to use alternative feeds: the requirement for traditional feed ingredients will not be met even by the most optimistic forecasts and the gap between the demand and supply is only expected to widen in the upcoming decades. This provides a compelling reason to explore locally available feed ingredients.

Insects are part of the natural diet of multiple animals, and therefore are a potential source of feed ingredients for fish, shrimp, poultry, and swine diets. Black soldier fly larvae have been identified as a source of high-quality protein and fatty acids necessary for animal development.

The sustainability of insects is generally acknowledged based on its production model that is both zero-waste – the entire insects being valorized (oil in monogastric breeding, protein in aquafeed and frass as a fertilizer) – and circular – due to insects’ ability to upcycle low-grade agricultural by-products into high quality nutrients for animal and plant nutrition. The latter is particularly true for Black Soldier Flies which have the ability to feed on wet byproducts hence avoiding an expensive and energy-intensive drying step that would otherwise be required.

Yet, few studies precisely quantified the sustainability of insect production, and in particular none were performed on industrial-scale insect facility in production. All Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) that have been so far performed were based on partial or aggregated data derived from pilot-scale facilities – until InnovaFeed published the results of the LCA performed on its industrial-scale facility which opened in November 2020.

However, to provide the most accurate environmental impact analysis, it is also at industrial-scale that the sustainability of producing insect nutrients has to be determined and compared to that of other more traditional feed ingredients.

This LCA performed by Quantis demonstrates that insect nutrients produced on InnovaFeed’s industrial-scale plant have a carbon footprint at least 50% lower than alternatives:
– InnovaFeed’s insect protein have a climate change impact up to 75% lower than Norwegian fishmeal: every year up to 25 million tons of CO2 will be saved with the production from this first industrial-scale plant of InnovaFeed
– InnovaFeed’s insect oil has a climate change impact up to 95% lower than vegetable oils such as soy oil; or up to 20 million tons of CO2 that will be saved every year

Leveraging its pilot-scale facility over the last four years, InnovaFeed developed a pioneering production model called “industrial symbiosis”.

By “industrial symbiosis”, InnovaFeed defines a model in which a novel industrial player designs its production and activity as embedded within an existing industrial ecosystem in order to make the most of existing infrastructures and byproduct and/or waste streams from neighboring players, and in return creating value. By allowing the upcycling of residue from one player’s activity by another co-located player, this symbiosis production model unlocks raw material and energy savings, thus diminishing the environmental footprint of the entire ecosystem.

In the case of InnovaFeed’s production, this industrial symbiosis model takes the form of a co-localization of InnovaFeed’s facilities with industrial players able to provide it with agricultural by-products to feed its larvae, waste energy to power the plants and existing infrastructure. InnovaFeed’s industrial-scale insect production unit is co-located with:
– starch manufacturer Tereos to upcycle its wheat by-products wet as feed for the insects,
– and energy player Kogeban to capture and valorize the latter waste energy – i.e. energy that was previously dissipated in the atmosphere.

The industrial symbiosis model established by InnovaFeed directly translates into sustainability benefits, as measured in the LCA conducted by independent expert Quantis. Using Tereos wet-byproducts – that do not require drying nor transportation, the two sites being directly connected through a pipeline – allows the saving of 21,000 tons of CO2 each year. Optimizing Kogeban’s thermodynamical cycle thereby capturing its “waste energy” enables InnovaFeed to meet 60% of its energy needs and save up to 32,000 tons of CO2 each year.
In total, the industrial symbiosis model developed by InnovaFeed allows the insect producer to reduce its carbon footprint by 80% compared to a standard model with no symbiotic relations.

Demonstrated benefits that eventually end up in consumers’ daily life in the form of more sustainable food products. Even petfood has its role to play to preserve our planet: using insect proteins and oil to feed all 66M European domestic dogs, could save a dozen millions of tons of CO2 each year, the equivalent of more than 10 million Paris-New York flights. A significant impact that individuals can achieve simply through their consumption choices.

Yet InnovaFeed’s LCA also demonstrates that not all production models are the same when it comes to sustainability. By allowing energy, infrastructures, and side-stream upcycling from existing local players, the symbiosis is the major lever for unlocking competitive advantage and environmental positive impact. This model, which particularly applies to insects as their natural role is to recycle low-grade agricultural residue into high-value nutrients, could also be applied beyond to other industries.

Beyond the sustainability benefits described above, this production model helps strengthen the economic competitiveness of all players involved, by increasing the valorization of side-streams for existing players and saving costs. These savings can then be shared between all collocated players in a win-win dynamic.

In the case of InnovaFeed, the direct use of agricultural by-products, existing infrastructures and waste energy significantly strengthens the competitiveness of insect production as well as the competitiveness of the incumbent industrial ecosystem in which it is embedded. Concretely, not drying agricultural by-products represents several million euros of gas saved each year. Similarly, capturing waste energy from nearby biomass turbine – by improving its thermodynamic cycle – increases the production capacity of the energy player by up to 30%, representing a valorization of 87 GWh per year that powers InnovaFeed’s plant. This local implantation thus allows existing players to strengthen their economic competitiveness, whilst providing new entrant InnovaFeed with necessary by-product and energy.

In conclusion, the insect industry has the ability to design new solutions to solve the challenge of sustainability with limited constraints compared to other industries, due to its recent emergence. Insect players like InnovaFeed thus have a role to play in defining innovative industrial models combining sustainability and competitiveness. These very models can then be applied to other sectors. This is a pioneering role that InnovaFeed embraced fully, by publishing the first large-scale LCA results for the insect sector, thus contributing to the scientific research and building of a both more sustainable and performant food system.

About Chloé Phan Van Phi
Chloé Phan Van Phi is the Head of Sales and Marketing at InnovaFeed. Prior to InnovaFeed, Chloé worked as a project leader at Oliver Wyman and at the International Finance Corporation where she worked on infrastructure projects in Sub-Saharan Africa. Chloé holds a Master of International Affairs from Johns Hopkins SAIS in the US and a Master of Science from the Ecole Polytechnique in France.