Some of us look down on the larvae of flies. Their wiggling mass conjures notions of filth and disease; we categorize them as generally bad. To a certain extent there is something behind our negative feelings about fly larvae, but the truth is not all flies are the same. Portland State University innovator Dr. Radu Popa, Associate Professor of Biology in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, and his longtime collaborator and colleague, Dr. Terry Green of Terry Green & Associates, have taken a vested interest in the very special larvae of one species in particular: the Black Soldier Fly. Doctors Popa and Green have developed a method and apparatus for using the larvae of Black Soldier Flies to process organic waste from liquids while at the same time recycling the valuable materials contained within the waste. When they look at Black Soldier Fly larvae, Popa and Green see the future of sustainable waste management and treatment.
Much of the man-made liquid waste we process in places like sewage treatment plants, and that released from decaying solid wastes (including that from decaying food scrap), is extremely rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon, calories, and other materials that could be recycled and repurposed. Current methods for treating this kind of waste, however, do not remove reusable materials, are inefficient and costly, and introduce harmful chemicals into the environment.
“This is the social problem we’re trying to tackle,” Popa said.
Enter Black Soldier Fly larvae.
“We realized that we could use the larvae to process useful raw waste materials and liquids as the waste materials and liquids undergo recycling,” Dr. Popa said.
“Here’s an insect that has learned through millions of years, following nature’s path, how to efficiently get the energy back out of the materials it recycles,” Dr. Green added. Both Green and Popa have spent years researching Black Soldier Flies and exploring ways to reintroduce the materials recycled by the larvae into the world.
By processing biodegradable waste, Black Soldier Fly larvae allows for the extraction of nutrients that might otherwise go unused, while at the same time providing other valuable resources. Chitosan, derived from Chitin, for instance, is a chemical found in the shells of mature Black Soldier Flies and larvae, and can be used in wound dressings, blood clotting technology, and surgical threads. The larva of a single Black Soldier Fly is also as rich in protein as a soy bean, and is an inexpensive source of food for fish and chicken farmers. And as the larvae are upwards to 35% lipid, they can be used in the production of biodiesel.
But Doctors Popa and Green have a vision of using Black Soldier Fly larvae to process more than just liquids containing biodegradable waste. They see a future in which Black Soldier Fly larvae process food and agricultural waste as well. “It’s a matter of perceptions,” Dr. Popa noted. “We have to change people’s perception of the Black Soldier Fly. They’re not like a house fly. They don’t spread diseases. They’re completely harmless.”
“We can generate a whole new industry,” Dr. Green said. “Instead of people paying to have waste taken away, it’s possible we’ll be seeing haulers competing for it. I have no doubt that cities like Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco will be interested in this technology.”
According to the “Portland Metropolitan Industrial Food Waste Study Report,” the Metro area generated an estimated 105,000 tons of industrial food waste in 2010. “If we want to survive, this excess of garbage we create will have to be recycled property. We have to do this naturally,” Dr. Popa said.
In order to achieve this goal, Doctors Popa and Green are working with the office of Innovation & Intellectual Property (IIP) to obtain a patent for their innovative new technology. They have also created DipTerra, a website dedicated to providing “scientific, industrial, and agricultural consulting services and technical support,” for those interested in composting food and vegetable wastes with Black Soldier Flies.
For more information on Black Soldier Fly larvae and on DipTerra visit www.dipterra.com.