Hexa Biotech, a revolutionary sustainable initiative
As unlikely as it may seem, insects are the food of tomorrow according to scientific literature. A statement that Gerardo, mechatronic engineer and current CEO of the Mexican initiative Hexa Biotech, has taken very seriously even as far back as 2014, when studying in Europe. He took an interest on the subject and sought to link it to a very personal yet universal concern: food waste. Once back in Mexico, he decided to focus on entomoindustry – the insect industry – and discovered several aspects that could contribute to raise human quality of life, such as the management of organic residue for use in the production of food and fertilizers.
He founded the Hexa Biotech initiative in 2018, now the winner of the Rural Youth Innovation Award in the sustainability category. This initiative is the result of friendship. It was founded by him and two high school friends, with whom he enjoyed imagining the future and thinking up cutting edge solutions. Today they’ve all graduated as engineers and pursue passionately their search for a circular economy in which the amount of waste is minimal. “We have passion, but also strategy”, explained Gerardo.
They began to sample grasshoppers, common flies, cockroaches, cicadas, focusing at first on entomophagy, that is, the inclusion of insects in the human diet. “We started to think we could feed the world with insects”, said Gerardo, who quickly realized there wasn’t yet a very positive response to this type of diet among humans.
Their inquiries eventually led them to a fly that proliferates in the north of Mexico: the black soldier fly. There they recovered and bred larvae in their labs, and fed them with organic residue. “We took the trash and separated what was useful for growing the larvae. Some larvae could be used in feed for fishes, chickens and a great variety of other products could be explored”, said Amín, biotech engineer at Hexa Biotech. Following this, they tried selling their product to a poultry farm. This earned them trust in the market and awards for their innovation.
After coming to an agreement with the local government, they got permission to recover the daily organic waste from a supply center, which delivers its food residue by truck. From there, Hexa Biotech’s production cycle takes just two weeks from the moment the fly eggs begin to transform, along with the residue, turning into larvae and then into a finished product to be used as animal feed. Currently, with the seven or eight tonnes of residue that can be delivered by the truck from the supply center, in two short weeks, they can produce two tonnes of feed.
But Hexa Biotech goes way beyond a simple system of resource reclamation. It also has very interesting, verified environmental impact: the cut in greenhouse gas emissions, due to the expenditure of organic residue by the insects. “8% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from food residue that could potentially be reduced”, said Amín.
Moreover, it’s worth mentioning that Hexa Biotech’s animal feed represents a significant cut in water usage, because unlike soy or corn, which are commonly used in animal feed, their product doesn’t require any additional water. This also influences the context of “Feed food competition”, since the corn we use today to feed animals could be redirected to feed humans tomorrow.
Currently, the team at Hexa Biotech seeks to develop other products, such as fertilizers, flour, biofuel, and even biodegradable plastic with experiments based on the use of the black soldier fly’s exoskeleton. For now, their experiments are on hold due to the pandemic and their lack of access to their labs. “Bioplastics is a very important field for us, because we could find an entirely sustainable way to produce plastics. And, in addition to being biodegradable, they would have an antimicrobial layer”, explained Gerardo.
Hexa Biotech’s concept is definitely cutting edge. Besides being human. “If we needed to have a motto, it would be: leave no one behind”, added Gerardo. The world already produces enough. Hexa wants to think of tomorrow’s agriculture with the backing of insects at its center. “In our production pipelines, we have a huge amount of waste that makes them inefficient and unsustainable. But, in reality, in nature, the concept of trash doesn’t exist. Nature has its own way of taking advantage of its waste products: with insects, we could gradually reintegrate all waste. It’s an area of opportunity that could enable us to improve our food production and agricultural processes.” claimed Amín. This is how Hexa Biotech took up the mission of leading the global transition to a 100% sustainable food production, with comprehensive residue management. It’s our mission to support this revolution.