By Emily Hamann
A Davis company is buzzing after winning big at University of California Davis’ annual innovation and business competition.
BioMilitus, which studies the use of insects in reducing agricultural waste and creating animal feed, took home a total of $22,000 in prize money from the Big Bang! Business Competition last Thursday.
The company, a team of four UC Davis graduate students and one researcher, won a total of five awards, including the $10,000 Central Valley Innovation Award and the $7,500 People’s Choice Award. It also won $3,000 in services at the UC Davis-HM.Clause Life Science Innovation Center, an off-campus business incubator with biochemistry, molecular biology and chemistry lab space.
BioMilitus plans to use that incubator space to build a pilot program this summer.
“We’re basically going to be gathering data and getting ready for scaling up,” BioMilitus chief financial officer Lydia Palma said. The company’s research and core products focus on a type of insect called the black soldier fly, which looks like a smaller version of the common house fly. BioMilitus is looking into how the fly can be used to take agricultural byproducts and turn them into animal feed.
“We’re trying to solve two problems,” Palma said.
The first is food waste. BioMilitus takes pre-consumer food waste and feeds it to insect larvae. The company is currently experimenting with hulls and shells from almonds and other nuts, as well as pulp, skins and other byproducts from tomato processing and winemaking.
The second problem BioMilitus is trying to solve has to do with animal feed. Right now, poultry feed is usually a combination of soy, corn and fish meal, which require lots of land and water, and compete with the human food supply.
BioMilitus proposes to take that insect larvae and turn it into animal feed. Currently, its research is focusing on creating a feed for poultry, but Palma said the company is also looking at its application in aquaculture.
“Insects are already a natural component of a poultry diet,” Palma said. “Insects are already really healthy for them.”
In BioMilitus’ pilot program this summer, Palma said the team will start off with a few different products. One is live larvae, which can be fed to pets like lizards and backyard chickens, and is an easier market to get into than commercial animal feed. Another product BioMilitus will be selling is compost made from insect waste.
In full production, BioMilitus’ animal feed will be dried larvae. At the end of the company’s five-year growth plan, Palma said, it hopes to produce 4 tons of larvae per day, as well as lots of compost.