Why the black soldier fly?
Project partner Nasekomo is an insect rearing company that specializes in technologies and genetics for bioconversion through the Black Soldier Fly (BSF) insect (hermetia illucens), one of the most powerful bioconversion agents to transform organic waste from agriculture into valuable products. BSFs are common throughout the Western hemisphere and the Australian region. BSF larvae are impeccable converters of organic waste from agriculture into valuable biomass, which contains 40+% protein and 30+% fat.
The derived products are insect protein, insect oil, and insect fertilizer (called frass). Insect protein and oil are used in animal feed, providing a valuable, sustainable alternative to conventional feed sources. Frass is a valuable organic fertilizer used in agriculture. As adults, black soldier flies do not possess a stinger, a mouth or digestive organs; therefore, they do not bite. As a fly, BSF do not feed. Only a source of water or a humid surface is required to stay hydrated. What is important in this life stage is an abundant amount of natural light and a warm temperature (25-32°C).
Black soldier flies are extremely sensitive to their environments; thus, their conditions need to be monitored extensively to ensure the highest yield is obtained.
Considering black soldier flies are an equatorial and generally a warm-season temperate species, their lifespan is dictated by how warm their environment is.
The female deposits anywhere between 500 and 800 eggs. On average, the eggs hatch after four days and the emerged larvae, which are barely 20 microns in size, will search for food and start feeding on the organic waste nearby. The larvae feed voraciously on the decomposing organic matter and grow from 20 microns size to around 2.5 cm length and 0.5 cm width and are of cream-like color. The larvae increase their body mass 10.000 times in just 14 days, converting 60% of total matter into body mass; 40% remain as fertilizer.
Under optimal conditions with ideal food quality and quantity, the growth of the larvae will require a period of 14-16 days. However, the BSF larva is a very resilient organism and has the ability to extend its life cycle under unfavorable conditions.
The larval stage is the only stage during which the BSF feeds and, therefore, it is during this time of larval development that enough fat reserves and protein are stored that allow the larvae to undergo pupation, emerge as flies, find mates, copulate and (as a female) lay eggs before dying.
The natural life-cycle explained above is the fundament for an efficient and reliable waste treatment facility using BSF larvae. However, to treat biowaste on a regular basis, the operator has to take control over the entire life cycle and, thus, create and operate an engineered biosystem.