‘It has benefits for soil and plant health’: Insect start-up Divaks is bullish about bug fertiliser

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/ollo
Image: Getty/ollo

Related tags fertilizer agtech collaboration

Lithuanian insect producer Divaks has discussed its plans to produce over 10,000 tonnes of insect-based fertiliser annually by 2030, amid growing interest in the potential of using frass, produced via insect bioconversion, to improve sustainability across the agricultural supply chain.

Vilnius-based Divaks recently announced it has selected the Swiss technology group Bühler to build its first EUR 67 million commercial-scale yellow mealworm plant. Scheduled to go into operation in 2025, the 10,000 square metre plant located in Lithuania’s Marijampolė Free Economic Zone will produce yellow mealworm (scientifically known as Tenebrio molitor), which it describes as an ‘environmentally friendly, nutritious protein source’ that can be used in applications including meat alternatives, sports nutrition, snacks, and confectionery as well as premium pet food.

While the main focus of the plant is to provide insect-derived ingredients for the food industry, the residue from the mealworm production (or insect frass, a mix of insect excrement, feeding substrate residues and exoskeleton particles) will also be utilised as organic fertiliser, which contributes to healthier soils, fostering a circular economy approach, Divaks CEO Kęstutis Lipnickas told AgTechNavigator.

“Frass has several benefits for soil and plant health. It provides macro- and micro-nutrients to the soil - insect frass is an efficient natural NPK [nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium] fertiliser,”​ he explained. “It has concentrations of N, P and K similar to those found in animal manure. Also, frass supplies organic matter that enhances microbiological activity in soil as well as increases plant tolerance to abiotic stresses and resistance to pathogens, which is believed to be linked mainly to the presence of chitin.”

Rendering of Divaks plant
Divaks plans to produce over 10,000 tonnes of insect frass annually by 2030.

Chitin, the building material that gives strength to the exoskeletons of insects, is also a valuable co-product of mealworm production which can potentially be used in a wide range of biomedical applications such as tissue engineering, drug and gene delivery, wound healing, and stem cell technology.

As well as positively affecting the nutritional content of crops such as vegetables or grains, frass can increase the biomass of the plants, thus helping crop yield, said Lipnickas.

“Petroleum-based fertilisers, as they are synthetic and precisely formulated, demonstrate properties typical of chemical fertilisers. Insect frass is from a natural source, obtained from natural bioconversion. It demonstrates qualities that are closer to farmed animal manure.

“Roughly the ratio is 1:1 (+-20% deviations are possible depending on the growing conditions), which means that, for example, one pound of mealworms generates the same amount of frass.”

Kęstutis Lipnickas CEO and Co-Founder of Divaks
'Frass supplies organic matter that enhances microbiological activity in soil as well as increases plant tolerance to abiotic stresses and resistance to pathogens.' Divaks CEO Kęstutis Lipnickas 

Ambitious targets

Scheduled to go into operation in 2025, the plant will produce up to 15,000 tonnes of sustainable insect-derived products annually, said Lipnickas. Divaks plans to produce over 10,000 tonnes of insect frass annually by 2030.

Divaks has selected Bühler as the technology provider for the plant. Bühler will be responsible for all process technology, which will include feedstock preparation to provide ‘safe, palatable, and nourishing feed to the larvae and a fully automated larvae growth system with sophisticated climate control’. Furthermore, Bühler will provide the processing line to transform the harvested larvae into textured insect proteins, insect protein concentrates, and other specialized food ingredients.

Lipnickas said: “This is a huge step forward for Divaks as we work to establish ourselves as global leaders in high-quality insect-derived ingredients for human nutrition. Bühler will deliver the state-of-the art technology we need, allowing us to focus on the most important activities: market development and creating sustainable products that excel in nutritional and functional qualities.”

Andreas Baumann, Head of Market Segment Insect Technology at Bühler, added: “We are delighted to have been chosen to provide a full-scope solution for Divaks’ yellow mealworm production site. It reinforces Bohler’s commitment to ambitious targets that will help to mitigate climate change and build a more sustainable food system.”

Yellow mealworms – which have been recognized as safe for human consumption by the European Commission – provide a complete protein source with all essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. At the same time, commercial insect farming is considered to have a low environmental footprint, requiring minimal water, energy, and land resources. It also supports circular food systems, with insect bioconversion potentially allowing for around a third of the EU’s annual food waste to be safely upcycled​.

Divaks, which was founded in 2020, is now approaching the closing stages of its Series A funding round. It has already secured a substantial part of its EUR 67 million target but remains open to new investors. Lipnickas added: “Edible insects have a key role to play as we move toward a more resilient and sustainable food system. Our new facility will help food brands tap into this fast-growing, high-potential sector with high-quality protein ingredients for premium food products.”

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