Black soldier fly larvae could help create sustainable animal feed and solve the world’s food waste problem.
Every year, humans waste more than 1 billion tons of food, or a third of all food production.
Many countries are running out of options to eliminate these wastes.
Black soldier fly larvae thrive in and around compost piles, where their larvae help break down organic material, from rotten products to animal remains and manure.
The larvae then commonly grow to about 1,000 times their size, says David Hu, a professor at the School of Mechanical Engineering.
“It’s like going from the size of a person to the size of a large truck,” he explained.
Black soldier fly larvae can eat twice their body mass in food per day, but when these worms feed while tightly packed in containers, they generate metabolic heat that can collectively become lethal to them.
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Researchers at Georgia Tech found that delivering the correct amount of airflow could help solve the problem of overheating.
Hungtang Ko, a doctoral student at the George W Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, said: “Black soldier fly larvae are widely used in an emerging food recycling industry. The idea is to feed the larvae food waste and then turn them into feed chickens.
“These larvae are a great candidate for this process because they eat almost everything.”
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The researchers placed the larvae in a container subjected to a regular air flow at a constant temperature. They then hooked up a leaf blower to supply airflow to the chamber, manually increasing and decreasing the air speed in five-minute tests.
Optimal air velocity will ensure that the larvae are adequately cooled and can still feed effectively.
Hu said: “Testing the optimal flow rate will be a good next step. Also, from an engineering perspective, we need to consider other ways that we can cool the larvae, including the use of heat transfer.”
The researchers also hope this work will make black soldier fly larvae more readily available as recyclers of food waste, totaling 1.3 billion tonnes per year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
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Just as important is the potential for these protein-rich insects to reduce the effects of carbon in animal diets.
Global food production contributes more than 17 billion metric tons of man-made greenhouse gas emissions each year, according to a study published in Nature Food in September.
Animal-based foods produce more than twice the emissions of plant-based foods, the study found.
Ko said: “There is no sustainable protein source for the animals we eat. Black soldier fly larvae could play a role in reducing the environmental impact of feeding these animals.”
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