Olympia Yarger, the founder and CEO of agtech start-up GoTerra, has combined bugs and robots to fight food waste and feed livestock.
In a search for a sustainable solution for livestock feed Olympia’s sights cast upon insects, Australian black soldier flies to be exact.
“The longer I worked with [the insects] the more I realised how much food waste is actually needed to feed them,” Olympia said.
“The flies on average eat five times their body weight.
“So for each kilogram of larvae five kilos of food waste is required”
With this revelation, Olympia needed an efficient way to manage the waste, the insects and to produce livestock feed. The solution was to automate the production process.
“I drew a robot on a napkin and the engineers made it real life!”
Ms Yarger created a modular system that accepts food waste, which is then conveyed to modular units where the waste is broken down and turned into feed by the insects.
“The unit keeps the insects warm, healthy and happy. It also tells us when they have finished feeding.”
GoTerra is based in Canberra and manages the food waste of more than 400 households, hospitals and hotels, and take in tonnes of commercial food waste a week.
“We are making around five tonnes of larvae for livestock feed a month,” Olympia said.
“We get the flies from the wild by catching them as larvae in a compost bin. I then raise and feed them until they turn into flies that will eventually lay eggs and turn into larvae (or maggots).
“Once the larvae eat the food waste they get really fat and that’s what we turn into livestock feed.”
Ms Yarger said the modular system used at GoTerra could become self-contained capsules that were able to be installed at sites which generate high levels of food waste such as farms, public transport hubs, hotels and hospitals.
“If we can manage the waste in a community and deliver the benefits of high protein livestock feed back to that community, we are eliminating the environmental and cost impact of transporting food waste to recycling plants and transporting feed to farms,” Olympia said.
Australia’s food waste problem costs about $20 billion and farmers are at times struggling to find affordable and protein rich feed for their livestock.
“Climate change is making it harder for us to predict the climate and harder for us to make sure we are meeting our protein production requirements and on top of that transports costs is a major factor in high feed prices.
“We have this legitimate opportunity to create a reliable sustainable source of protein into the Australian market and see it grow into the future,” Olympia said.