[TW] Hello, and welcome to the Insect Biotech Group podcast. My name is Toby Webb, I’m one of the co-founders and look after sustainability and external affairs, and I’m here with my CEO, Ignacio Gavilan. Welcome to the IBG podcast, Ignacio.

[IG] Thank you Toby

[TW] You’re the CEO. What does that mean? What’s your job at IBG?

[IG] After 23 years spent in sustainability, I decided to move into the real world, basically moving away from pledges, from high-level stuff, into on-the-ground operation. What I have to do here is set up the company in Spain, and of course, as any other CEO, build the structure, the financial targets, and then of course, set up the operation, which is what is keeping us busy these days.

[TW] What’s the product we’re selling here, what are we making?

[IG] The real purpose here is that we’re turning olive oil milling agricultural waste in Spain – that’s one of the main reasons we’re in Spain, because this is the largest producer of olive oil – into a number of things [01:00]. Animal protein will be the most important, but then there are some other uses, like organic fertilizer, oils, and something called chitin, that can be sold for pharmaceutical and cosmetic purposes.

[TW] So, we’re using olive pomace waste, which is blended with other non-food waste, and that’s going to be fed to these black soldier fly larvae. They will grow over how many days?

[IG] 14 to 16 days, and there are a number of reasons why we chose the black soldier fly. There are a number of insects that are approved by the EU to be reared in EU markets, but we chose the black soldier fly. And why? Because the larval growth period is short – 14 to 16 days means multiple growing cycles throughout the year. It’s reported as feeding on an immense variety of organic materials and has already been used in small-scale waste management, using substrates like manure, rice straw, agricultural waste, and distillers grains. So, it’s a very versatile insect. I could go into a lot of technicalities [02:00] , but I think the black soldier fly larvae produces highly valuable products: high protein meal, agricultural fertilizer (also called frass), chitin, and insect oil.

[TW] We’re here in Andalucia because that feedstock is right on our doorstep. We’re calling it ‘green gold’ in the business, and that will lead us to create large volumes of protein and fertilizer over time. But to do that, of course, we’ve got to build a big factory, and that’s going to take a couple of years. So, what are we doing in the meantime? What’s the plan?

[IG] One thing we need to be very clear on is that we understand well the process with olive pomace and black soldier flies, but we need to make it extremely efficient. We need to get the conversion rates right. So for that, we’re setting up one or two small pilot facilities in Andalucia. It’s called a ‘grow box’ since it’s the size of a container, because we want to get it right on a small scale. After that, we will be moving to the first plant, 10,000 square meters, and in a few years, we hope to have at least five plants in Andalucia. [03:00]

[TW] So, this box, this demonstration plan, it’s a 20-foot shipping container, fully kitted out with air and heat control, perfect for R&D, that’s producing small volumes of product for testing. So that we can get customers to give us letters of intent, letters of approval, etc. Where are we going to put this grow box, this demonstration plant? I mean, the best place for it is right where the feedstock is.

[IG] Correct, we’ve spent the last six months talking to different suppliers of this feedstock. We have now secured two that are located in Granada and Jaen. This week, we sign an agreement with the University of Granada. They’re very happy to have one of these containers within their campus, which will be fantastic, because then the entomologists from the University and the scientists can collaborate with us. One thing we really want to do at Insect Biotech Group is research and development, and universities are at the heart of this.

So, we’re setting up these agreements with Granada to really go in-depth into the substrates, into the possibilities, again using olive pomace as the main substrate, but we will have to test as well other agricultural waste within Andalucia. So, to your point, we need to locate the plants right next to where the substrate is. These olive crushing facilities have very large ponds, very, very large ponds of olive pomace, which, to be honest, today is not getting any valorization. We will install our plants right next to them, so we avoid any type of transportation. It’s consistent throughout the year, and that’s a huge advantage when you’re dealing with insects, because consistency in the feedstock is critical.

[TW] So, we’ve come up with what we call the ‘Triple Play’ approach to our products and offerings, which very much fits with our sustainability strategy. The Triple Play sounds like some sort of American management jargon from the 1990s, but what do we mean by that?

[IG] There are three main things here, and circling our manufacturing: secularity is a key thing, regeneration, and sustainable inputs. Within that, I’m particularly interested in regenerating rural communities – well-paid local jobs, investment in local research and development, science research. Obviously, the whole purpose of this is also to displace unsustainable inputs, such as fish meal, fossil fuel, because fertilizers are basically today made out of fossil fuel. I think that’s the core objective. And then, obviously, manufacturing a sustainable 21st-century product – low impact, high efficacy. And to be fair, the lifecycle assessment of this whole project will be low compared to the status quo.

[TW] To summarize where we got to for our listener in the last seven minutes: what we’re talking about here is a Spanish company, which has shareholders and directors from around the world. Our co-founder, Ben, is Australian, a former marine biologist, and we’re bringing the idea of sustainable manufacturing and circular production down to Andalucia. Taking black soldier flies, using them as a bioconverter of olive pomace waste mixed with other waste products like brewers spent grain and bread waste, that’s being fed to black soldier fly larvae, which are converted to protein and fertilizer. We are in a stage of installing these demonstration factories to prove that our feedstock works optimally, which lab tests show that it will, but we need to prove that by making product. The next stage is where we move towards a large-scale factory. So, right now, what are we looking for from an investment point of view, Ignacio?

[IG] We’ve already raised capital, mainly from international investors. Now, the target is to develop local investors, so we’re beginning to speak with the likes of Santelmo Foundation in Sevilla, a very respected university. We are trying to attract that seed money that we need to get these two containers up and running. We’re very close to it, but we still need input. So, if you are an investor in Spain and have some spare cash, we’ll be happy to talk to you.

We would like investment that stays within the business, meaning we would love to have landowners, families from Andalucia, paying attention to this project because this is the future. So, we would like them to get involved with us, not only with cash, but we’ll be happy to have positions within the company for investors to work with us. We need doors to open in Andalusia; we need this to scale very quickly. The market is out there; aquaculture, for example, in Spain, requires millions of tons of insect protein. We need to scale up very quickly. So, I’m not worried about the funding coming in the long run; it’s, as always, the first million that’s a bit more difficult.

[TW] Thankfully, we’ve made great progress on that. We’re already quite well-funded; we just need to get that last bit in. And as you say, we’re very keen to be locally owned, at least in part, because we need that local buy-in. We have found that mother lode of feedstock, the green gold in Andalusia. We’re looking to convert that into 21st-century products using circular processes, so it’s very exciting. And if you want to know more, you’ll find out more on insectbiotech.eu. If you want to get in touch with Ignacio, you can just email ig@insectbiotech.eu