Tucked away between houses of a residential neighborhood in the quirky town of Yellow Springs, sits EnviroFlight LLC — a 3,600 square-foot factory capable of manufacturing 1,000 tons of animal feed a year.
The secret to such a high yield in such a small footprint? Bugs.
After several years of research and development, founder Glen Courtright and EnviroFlight have developed a way of using the voracious appetites of black soldier fly larvae to rid food manufacturers of discarded materials and manufacture animal feed on the back-end.
At first thought, the market for maggots would seem extremely limited, but it is growing.
“We have clients in place that are interested in the dried insect larvae,” Courtright said, citing the aquaculture industry.
Fish pellets created with the larvae has been approved for perch. Tests for other fish are underway.
“We sell cooked, dried bugs as a food additive for the pet industry. We sell live bugs to zoos,“ Courtright said.
EnviroFlight is also looking to use the cooked, dried bugs as an additive to swine feed.
Courtright didn’t start off as a bug guy. He holds no degree in entomology. His background is with SAIC, an engineering firm that does defense services for the U.S. military.
“Back in 2005, I was working for a big commercial engineering company in Alaska. And I was supposed to go out to one of the oil drilling platforms, but the ice flows weren’t there, because the Earth was warming up,” Courtright said. “This was when the whole global warming discussion was starting.”
He added, “Right then and there, I decided I needed to do something about the environment.”
Courtright began researching bio-diesel as a sustainable energy.
“A couple of years later, the engineering company went public and I cashed out and went private,” he said. “I looked at starting a bio-diesel plant in South Charleston, Ohio.”
Courtright had the project funded and was ready to sign the papers.
“I realized that I didn’t want to use food to make fuel,” he explained. “Secondarily, I didn’t want a business model that was dependent on government subsidies. So I walked away from the deal.”
Despite the decision, Courtright said he still loved the idea of renewable fuels.
“So, I then focused on feed stock,” he said. “I looked at growing enzymatic bacteria, which was really expensive. I looked at algae, but that was a boondoggle since the physics in this part of the world aren’t conducive to growing algae.”
“Then I landed on bugs.”
Courtright opened up shop in Yellow Springs in 2009.
“So we started this company here as a way to create oil for fuel. But then we got into this and realized that replacing fish meal and fish oil in aquaculture diets was more important and more profitable than making diesel fuel.”
It took a while to get to black soldier flies.
“That was the real ‘a-ha’ moment,” said Courtright.
“They don’t carry disease; they’re already found worldwide; and they’re 40 to 50 percent fat,” he said. “So we retooled the industry and today we do two things: We solve the feed problem and we’re solving a waste problem.”
Courtright explained the process.
“We use distiller’s grains as what we call a ‘carrier,’” he said. ” So if we have a liquid or a semi-liquid waste-stream, we have to combine that with a dry base.”
He continued, “Say something comes in with 70 percent moisture and really high fat. For example: the skimmings of processed water. That material, we’re almost paid to take it. So we can take that material, blend it with distiller’s grains, soy hulls, and rice hulls. The bugs extract the nutrients.”
The end product are fat, healthy larvae, full of protein, fat and Omega-3 acids.
“We’re a zero-waste facility,” Courtright beamed.
The company’s future looks bright. In the short term, EnviroFlight is looking to expand to a larger facility and double their staff to 20 employees. In the long term, Courtright envisions future plants to be built in conjunction with meat-processing plants or breweries, where the discarded byproducts of the processing plants could go to feed the larvae.
Enviroflight would licence their technology, allowing the expense of discarding waste to become a potential profit center.