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Turning Waste into Wealth: Circa Biotech's Black Soldier Fly Revolution

In the heart of the UAE, a game-changing solution to organic waste management is taking flight. Circa Biotech, founded by the visionary duo Kristine Wong and Dr. Haythem Riahi, harnesses the natural efficiency of the Black Soldier Fly (BSF) to transform food waste into sustainable and high-quality products. Venturing far beyond traditional waste management methods, this biotech firm is setting a new standard in sustainable agriculture and recycling, with a special focus on desert environments. Dive in as we sit down with Kristine Wong, exploring the inspiration, process, and potential of this groundbreaking approach.

The FutureList: Can you explain the inspiration behind Circa Biotech’s unique approach to organic waste management using the Black Soldier Fly?

Kristine Wong: As one of the co-founders of Circa Biotech, Dr. Haythem Riahi and I, both have pharmaceutical and entrepreneurial backgrounds. Dr. Riahi, a Microbiology PhD, runs his own consulting firm, and I’m a Pharmacist with previous business ventures. Three years ago, we met at a conference and discussed UAE’s food waste issue. Seeing potential, we explored insect-based solutions. After confirming its viability, we joined the Catalyst accelerator, funded by Masdar and BP, to kickstart our initiative.

The FutureList: How does Circa Biotech’s process help mitigate waste management issues while promoting sustainability?

Kristine Wong: We collect the pre consumer food waste from organic farms and supermarkets, instead of allowing the expired food to go to the landfills which is the current situation now. We prepare the food waste as feed for the insect black soldier fly larvae. Once the insects grow large enough, we harvest the black soldier fly and process it into three products

  1. High quality insect protein to be incorporated to chicken and fish feed
  2. High quality insect oil which can be used as a supplement for animal feed, in our case, we are also exploring the biodiesel industry
  3. High quality fertiliser for organic farms

We complete the circular economy concept.

The FutureList: The concept of using insects to upcycle organic waste might be unfamiliar to some. Could you walk us through the key steps of your innovative process and how it transforms waste into valuable resources?

Kristine Wong: We use the black soldier fly to process food waste through a life cycle that begins with egg laying on organic waste, followed by egg hatching into larvae. These larvae voraciously consume the waste, undergoing growth, moulting, and accumulating nutrients. They then transition to the prepupal stage, pupate, and emerge as adult flies. This natural process efficiently converts food waste into valuable resources while reducing waste volume and environmental impact.

The FutureList: Could you elaborate on the nutritional benefits of this protein source and its potential impact on the agriculture and aquaculture industries?

Kristine Wong: BSF protein is packed with essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats, these larvae present a potent protein source resembling conventional options like fish meal, with the added benefit of beneficial fatty acids. This nutritional richness can significantly enhance animal growth and well-being.

For agriculture, incorporating BSF into livestock and poultry feed can boost feed efficiency and animal health, potentially reducing reliance on traditional feed sources. In aquaculture, these larvae have the potential to revolutionise fish feed, easing pressure on overexploited wild fish stocks and promoting sustainable practices.

The FutureList: Can you share some success stories where Circa Biotech contributed to sustainable and successful protein sources for farmers?

Kristine Wong: We have worked on several proof of concepts with local farms. We have provided samples for their organic free range chickens which lay eggs. Over the course of 100 days, with 100 chickens, the quality of eggs had improved drastically. Eggs were larger in size, the egg yolk and egg white were more solid/ less watery. The egg shells were much harder and durable. Farms lose up to 15% of their egg collection due to fragile egg shells when they are transported.

The FutureList: What challenges did Circa Biotech face during the development and implementation of its innovative waste management process?

Kristine Wong: Circa Biotech which is operating in desert environments encounter many challenges such as extreme temperatures, water scarcity, and humidity management. Desert climates create temperature variations which made us brainstorm and experiment a lot with climate control for optimal larvae growth. We use robust facility design to counter desert elements like dust and sand. Despite these obstacles, innovative strategies and technologies hold the potential to mitigate challenges and establish successful farms.

The FutureList: Could you highlight some of the unique characteristics of the Black Soldier Fly that make it an ideal candidate for your waste management solution?

Kristine Wong: In desert climates, the BSF showcases unique attributes that make it an ideal solution for efficient waste management. With a natural resilience to drought conditions and the capacity to withstand high temperatures, these larvae thrive in arid environments. BSF larvae’s ability to decompose waste without emitting strong odours addresses air quality concerns often prevalent in such regions. Furthermore, their efficient use of water and capacity to be reared on non-competitive waste resources are particularly advantageous in water-scarce desert areas, making it ideal for waste management in deserts like the UAE.

The FutureList: Lastly, as a pioneer in merging technology, sustainability, and agriculture, what advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to create innovative solutions for pressing global challenges?

Kristine Wong: If you think your idea is good, make a plan and go for it. There will be so many unexpected situations for you to learn.

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