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1 December 2021 - Janet Binder

Saving the Climate with Soldier Flies

Food and beverage

The startup company Farmcycle to use insects to make livestock feed more environmentally friendly

Amir Mehmedović, Norman Breitling and Florian Berendt (from left) sit at the entrance to the 70-meter-long container tube where the fly larvae are fed in boxes.
Amir Mehmedović, Norman Breitling and Florian Berendt (from left) sit at the entrance to the 70-meter-long container tube where the fly larvae are fed in boxes. © WFB/Lehmkühler

The atmosphere in the "Lovecage" is a steamy 30 degrees Celsius with 70 percent humidity. This is just the type of climate the black soldier flies like. These insects, which are two centimetres long and thus considerably bigger than the common housefly, swarm in clouds around an LED lamp, and sit on the camouflage nets suspended from the ceiling or on wooden planks. The name "Lovecage" is no coincidence: this six by three meter space in a hall in Bremen's Hemelingen district is where the flies will lay their eggs... lots and lots of eggs. The Bremen-based start-up Farmcycle wants to use flies to make its contribution to climate protection. It has already been nominated for the Bremen Environmental Prize 2021.

High-quality protein from fly larvae

"We use organic waste materials to create high-quality protein for animal feed, reducing the need to transport it long distances", says Florian Berendt (33), Managing Director and agricultural engineer. He founded the company in 2020, together with Norman Breitling (41) and Amir Mehmedović (41), and now employs eight people in the Hanseatic City of Bremen.

In 2019, Germany imported around 3.6 million tonnes of soya

Livestock like pigs and hens need protein in their food, usually in the form of soya or fish meal. According the Federal Agency for Agriculture and Food, Germany imports 26 percent of the protein contained in animal feed. The majority of this protein is soya from South America and the USA. Figures from the Federal Office for Statistics show that Germany imported around 3.6 million tonnes of soya in 2019. This is a constant source of criticism, because the production of soya involves the destruction of species-rich habitats and transportation over long distances, resulting in high CO2 emissions.

The larvae grow for ten to 15 days on a substrate of organic waste. After that, they are large enough and are dried.
The larvae grow for ten to 15 days on a substrate of organic waste. After that, they are large enough and are dried. © WFB/Lehmkühler

Fly larvae grow faster than mealworms

Fish meal, predominantly from Peru and Chile, is also used as a protein supplement in animal feed. However, due to over-fishing, it is not only controversial, but also expensive. For this reason, the European Commission decided to permit the use of insect protein in feedstuffs for pigs and poultry in August 2021. There are already some companies producing insects in Europa, and experiments with mealworms are also being conducted. "However, the larvae of the black soldier fly grow much faster than mealworms", says Norman Breitling, who also runs an advertising agency in Bremen. "We can harvest them in ten to 15 days."

The larvae become plump and round by eating organic waste materials

The startup company Farmcycle operates a regional recycling-based economy at its pilot site in Bremen: To ensure the larvae become big and fat, they live in crates and are supplied with a broth of organic waste materials, i.e. fruit, vegetables, coffee grounds, beer by-products or dairy products. These are regionally produced products that were no longer fit to be sold at the wholesalers, in organic retail shops or at weekly markets and would otherwise have ended up in the biogas plant. "In the best-case scenario, we're even paid to take away organic waste products", says Florian Berendt.

Companies supply food waste

Farmcycle works together with two breweries from Bremen that supply beer by-products as well as with an organic supermarket chain. "We get enquiries from companies all over Germany", says Norman Breitling. These enquiries concern both the recycling of waste materials and the larvae themselves. To produce the feed, the larvae are taken to the "bioreactor", a 70-metre container pipe which stands in the yard of the company. "The idea is that, in future, the larvae will also be bred decentrally, at the agricultural businesses themselves, and then brought to the farm in Bremen for processing", says Florian Berendt.

Larvae are also a source of lipids

Once the larvae are big enough, they are separated from the substrate and dried. Larvae contain high levels of protein and lipids. "Their diet determines how high these levels are", says Berendt. Larvae could therefore either be sold whole, or as separated lipids that can then be used as a substitute for palm or fish oils. The substrate, which consists of the larvae cases and waste remnants, can be used as an agricultural fertiliser. Personal testing has already shown promising results: "I used this fertiliser on my sweet pepper plants at home and they are just huge", reports Norman Breitling.

The black soldier fly is kept in the "lovecage".
The black soldier fly is kept in the "lovecage". © WFB/Lehmkühler

The pet food market is also interested

According to the founders, the fly larvae are not only attractive as a source of protein for pigs and poultry, but also for domestic pets. "Major producers have already expressed an interest", says Breitling. The larvae could also be used as hedgehog food. "The market for this shouldn't be underestimated", says Breitling. The company has already received certification from the Verband für ökologischen Landbau (Association for Ecological Agriculture) for its sustainable production methods. "We are one of the first insect producers in Europe to have been awarded Naturland Fair Standard accreditation", says Breitling. "This makes us an attractive prospect for all organic producers."

The founders got to know each other at a Bremen start-up event

These young entrepreneurs are now in the starting blocks and ready to start large-scale production. They're in search of a site for a 50,000 square meter production hall. All three of them especially praise the entrepreneurial environment in Bremen. "I started my first business when I was 21", says Breitling. "And a lot of things have happened since then. Bremen now provides a great deal of support for start-ups and has excellent networking opportunities." He mentions Starthaus Bremen, the Bremen Startups initiative and the Bremen Aufbaubank (Bremen's development bank). "This is also how I met Florian: at a start-up event in Bremen", says Breitling. In 2020, Florian Berendt founded the startup "EntoSus". The company produces and sells roast crickets as a crispy high-protein snack in three flavours. Norman Breitling thinks Bremen is way ahead when it comes to climate protection innovations and has real vision: "Why shouldn't we start changing the world from Bremen?", he says.

Bremen is one of the leading European locations for food and beverage production. Learn more about our Food & Beverage sector.

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