New insect biorefinery InBiRa, coordinated by Fraunhofer IGB in Germany, uses organic residues and biowaste to convert into usable higher-quality products; insect biotechnology has potential to make good use of Europe's 88 million tons/year of biowaste

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STUTTGART, Germany , June 27, 2022 (press release) –

InBiRa, a new insect biorefinery, uses organic residues and biowaste as valuable raw materials and converts them into technically usable higher-quality products. In this way, the biorefinery makes a positive contribution to climate neutrality. The Baden-Württemberg Ministry of the Environment, Climate Protection and the Energy Sector and the European Union are funding a pilot plant that is being set up at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart. Project leader Dr. Susanne Zibek will present the insect biorefinery at the Stuttgart Science Festival on 25 June and at the Biowaste Forum on 27 June.

© ISWA, University of Stuttgart

Baked goods are dried in InBiRa, crushed and processed together with superimposed food as well as residues from gastronomy and organic bins into feed mixtures for the larvae of the black soldier fly.




© Hermetia Baruth - Wikipedia

In the InBiRa project, insect larvae convert organic residues into proteins and high-quality fats as raw materials for new products.





© Fraunhofer IGB

The skins of the larvae contain chitin, which is extracted in InBiRa and converted into valuable chitosan.
Until now, biowaste has mostly been composted or fermented in biogas plants. They contain valuable building blocks that can also be used for other material purposes. Fossil and renewable raw materials could thus be saved.


The joint project "InBiRa – Insect Biorefinery", which is coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart, is pursuing a new way of making organic residues usable for renewed value creation in the sense of the circular economy. The new approach is made possible by the larvae of the fly Hermetia illucens, also called black soldier fly: Superimposed food and biowaste serve the larvae as food, which they convert into proteins, fats and chitin during their growth. After inactivation of the larvae, the biomass is separated into fat and protein components, which are then available as new starting materials for a variety of high-quality products.

Scientists from Fraunhofer IGB are working with the University of Stuttgart, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Heidelberg (ifeu) and Hermetia Baruth GmbH, which has many years of experience in the mass breeding of the black soldier fly, to establish the insect biorefinery. On the part of the University of Stuttgart, the Institute of Interfacial Engineering and Plasma Technology (IGVP) and the Institute of Sanitary Engineering, Water Quality and Waste Management (ISWA) are involved. Furthermore, the national subsidiary BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg (BIOPRO) and the PreZero Stiftung & Co. KG are involved.


First insect biorefinery pilot plant for the technical use of all fractions
"With InBiRa, we are planning and building an insect biorefinery pilot plant for the first time to breed insect larvae on waste materials and to extract secondary raw materials from them on a large scale, which can then be converted into high-quality chemical products. The plant complex includes waste and residual electricity treatment, insect larval fattening, primary refining for the separation and processing of biomass into high-purity fractions of proteins and fats as well as secondary refining of these substance fractions," explains Dr. Susanne Zibek, Group Leader Bioprocess Development at Fraunhofer IGB.

A third material flow is formed by the residual food not used in insect larvae production, which consists mainly of vegetable cellulose, as well as the exuvia, which are shed during the molting of the larvae during the transition to the next larval stage, and finally also insect excrement. InBiRa has set itself the goal of recycling these leftovers in the best possible way.

"In the second refinery stage, we use chemical or biotechnological processes to convert these three material flows into valuable basic building blocks and intermediates that can ultimately be used in fuels, cosmetics, cleaning agents, plastics and plant fertilizers," explains the scientist.


A new cycle for superimposed food and canteen waste
Insect larvae are already bred commercially in Europe to produce valuable proteins, e.g. for dog and cat food. With the feeding of organic waste, however, InBiRa is breaking new ground. Insects such as fruit flies or dung beetles perform the task of converting rotting substances and excretions of other animals in the cycle of nature.

In Europe, 88 million tons of biowaste are generated every year. »About half of it is suitable for implementation by the Black Soldier Fly. Insect biotechnology can help to make good use of this waste," says Kirsten Katz, Product and Quality Manager at Hermetia Baruth GmbH. Another project partner, the PreZero Stiftung & Co. KG, is responsible for the collection of organic waste – especially food residues from retail, gastronomy and canteens – as food for the insect larvae. "In order to exploit the potential of organic residues and waste, we are participating in InBiRa and making our expertise and resources available in the field of organic residues," says Linda Schuster, responsible project manager at the PreZero Foundation.

So far, there is no process chain that processes and assembles organic residual streams and waste in such a way that larval cultivation is possible. To ensure that the insect larvae can optimally use the biowaste and residues and form as much biomass as possible, the Institute for Sanitary Engineering, Water Quality and Waste Management (ISWA) at the University of Stuttgart prepares them into suitable feed mixtures. "In order to be able to establish food waste as a future-oriented feed for larval breeding, we are investigating which components best promote larval growth in which quantities," explains Dr. Claudia Maurer from ISWA.

The experts from Hermetia Baruth GmbH, on whose technology the first modules of the insect biorefinery are based, evaluate how well the larvae grow with the provided feed mixtures. Thus, the establishment of the multi-stage primary refining for the processing of insects in cooperation with the IGVP is also their task. This includes, on the one hand, separating the insect larvae from the feed substrate at the best time and in the best possible way, and on the other hand, developing an improved scalable process for purifying the protein and fat fractions. "The challenge here is that the larvae have reached their maximum weight when the feed substrate is still moist, which makes it difficult to separate the larvae from the residual substrate," says Kirsten Katz.

After inactivation of the larvae, the insect fat is separated from the protein-containing press cake in a press. "So far, there is no scalable process to purify the crude fat and the protein-containing press cake with high quality. For this purpose, we want to provide a solid-liquid extraction unit with which the residual fat can also be removed from the press cake," explains Christian Schmidle, PhD student at IGVP.


Secondary refining – insect fat as an alternative to palm oil
The conversion processes of secondary refining, with which valuable basic building blocks for chemical products are created from the three material flows, are primarily developed by the IGVP of the University of Stuttgart, with which the IGB works closely together.

The insect fats are chemically similar to the tropical fats widely used in industry. "With InBiRa, we want to open up an alternative domestic source to palm kernel and coconut oil and replace some of the technically used chemicals that have so far been produced from imported oils," explains Schmidle, who researches processes for the conversion of fats and proteins in his doctoral thesis. For example, the grease content can be converted into lubricants, fuels, biosurfactants or soaps. The protein components, on the other hand, can be used for the production of wood adhesives, cosmetics, binders, paper coatings or packaging films.

Pupal sheaths, larval skins and adult flies consist to a large extent of chitin. "We want to extract this at the IGVP and convert it into high-quality chitosan, e.g. for applications in the textile industry or wastewater treatment," says Muhand Elamin, also a doctoral student at the IGVP.

Finally, the ISWA investigates how fertilizer or biogas can be produced from the residual substrates in order to feed even the last remnants of the production into a high-quality material or energetic recycling. "We are investigating how well the residual substrate can be used and fermented as a co-substrate and whether it is suitable as a fertilizer and soil conditioner to implement the circular economy," adds Bettina Krucker from ISWA.


Evaluation of the overall system and technology transfer
For a holistic evaluation of the recycling and production system depicted in InBiRa, heidelberg-based ifeu uses close cooperation with the project partners to determine data that allows the mass flows in the individual newly developed processes to be balanced. This is done over the entire duration of the research project, so that an optimized production system is achieved at the end of the project. "InBiRa's recycling system must also prove itself from an ecological point of view. Costs and benefits must be in a reasonable relationship and this also in comparison to already established recycling alternatives," emphasizes Florian Knappe from ifeu.

Finally, BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg ensures that the project can be connected to the economy and society through accompanying communication measures and technology transfer. "Information and education are the prerequisites for understanding and making visible innovative processes in the bioeconomy and their value chains. This is the only way to support new products from industry and the general public and find a sales market," says Dr. Brigitte Kempter-Regel from BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg.

InBiRa, eine neue Insekten-Bioraffinerie, setzt organische Reststoffe und Bioabfälle als wertvolle Rohstoffe ein und wandelt sie in technisch nutzbare höherwertige Produkte um.
© Fraunhofer IGBInBiRa, eine neue Insekten-Bioraffinerie, setzt organische Reststoffe und Bioabfälle als wertvolle Rohstoffe ein und wandelt sie in technisch nutzbare höherwertige Produkte um.
With the state strategy »Sustainable Bioeconomy for Baden-Württemberg«, the state government is supporting the transition to a resource-efficient and circular economy based on renewable and biological resources. This serves to protect our natural foundations of life and strengthens Baden-Württemberg as a business location.

The InBiRa project will be funded from October 2021 to March 2024 by the EU and the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of the Environment, Climate And Energy as part of the ERDF funding programme "Bioeconomy – Biorefineries for the Extraction of Raw Materials from Waste and Wastewater – Bio-Ab-Cycling" with funds decided by the state parliament.

Public presentation of the project
Project manager Dr. Susanne Zibek will present the insect biorefinery on two occasions at the end of June 2022. As part of the Stuttgart Science Festival on June 25 at 2 p.m., interested parties are cordially invited to their lecture at the Open Day on the Fraunhofer Campus Stuttgart. Zibek will present the new project to the trade audience at the Biowaste Forum 2022 on 27 June in Session 2 (4.40 pm) in the Alte Reithalle – Hotel Maritim Stuttgart.

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