Food waste is a major issue in UAE, with about 2,000 tonnes (1.8 million kg) wasted annually. 40% of this going to landfills, and the remaining split across incinerators and aerobic digestion (fermentation), with the latter yielding fertilizer.
Circa Biotech was established in January this year to manage UAE’s food waste in a sustainable way.
“We are proposing a sustainable way to treat food waste and produce commercially viable, high quality protein rather than just fertilizer,” said Dr Haythem Riahi, co-founder and business development officer.
The firm is working with a major supermarket retailer in UAE, and waste management company Tadweer. Riahi said it plans to process pre-consumer foods, which comes from food retailers, rather than kitchen waste from consumers.
According to Kristine Wong, co-founder and strategy officer, the food waste is first collected from the retailer's central warehouse, including fruits, vegetables, meat, bones, canned and packaged goods.
The waste is then sent to Circa Biotech’s waste processing facility and fed to the black soldier fly (BSF) larva. It is then harvested after 10 days and processed into three components, protein meal, larval oil and fertilizer.
The protein meal is extracted and sold to animal food manufacturers. The firm hopes to produce feed targeting chicken and fish.
The larval oil can be processed into biodiesel, and the organic fertilizer is a by-product containing the excrement of insect larvae, and sold to agriculture farmers.
Riahi said depending on what the BSF larva were fed, the nutritional outcome would be different. However, the firm is now developing a process to optimise the food waste to standardise the quality and consistency of the products achieved.
Currently about 10% of the food waste is converted into protein, but the team is hoping to increase the conversion rate to 50%.
Operations officer, Dr Liudmila Prozorova said the firm was currently working on its pilot unit which is located in Masdar Tech Park in Abu Dhabi. It will be operational by the end of this year, and aims to process three to five tons of food waste daily from Carrefour’s central warehouse for a start.
Riahi is forecasting this amount to reach 200 tons daily in the next five years.
“Once we reach this capacity, the waste from retailers will not be sufficient, so we will be diversifying to the food industry and at the agriculture level too.”
Pioneers of insect farming
Riahi said it was the first company in the Middle East with the exception of Israel, using BSF larva to process food waste.
However, being regional pioneers of insect farming means there are several hurdles to overcome, especially in terms of regulations.
“There is no regulation related to insect farming. We participated in CovHack because we wanted to have more access to government entities who can provide us with the legal framework, so we can operate our insect farm.”
Circa Biotech was the runner-up at The CovHack Virtual Innovation Challenge organised by Innovate4Good.