Black soldier fly larvae, food waste, aviation fuel and drilling may sound like a stomach-turning concept. But For United Arab Emirates-based startup Circa Biotech, the improbable mix could pioneer sustainability through insect farming.

The company is putting some of the estimated 1.3 billion tons per year of food waste to use by creating insect protein, oils and organic fertilizer.

While Circa Biotech’s core business involves selling insect protein to animal feed manufacturers and fertilizer to farms, Circa Biotech co-Founder and CEO Haythem Riahi said the company is adding a new revenue stream by delivering sustainable drilling lubricants to the oil and gas industry and sustainable aviation fuel.

“In our facility, food waste is fed to the larvae under a controlled environment. Ten days later the larvae are ready to be harvested,” Riahi said. “After further processing, protein, oil and organic fertilizer are recovered from 90% of the larvae. We [keep] the remaining 10% to continue developing into other flies that breed and lay eggs.”

With a current production capacity of 900 tons per year of larvae oil, Circa Biotech plans to scale up to 16,000 tonnes a year to tap to a market of 3 million tons per year. “We deployed with ADNOC [Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.], a commercial pilot using larvae oil as a drilling lubricant and we are preparing a second commercial pilot also,” Riahi said.

Circa Biotech was one of 48 companies from 21 countries showcasing technologies that aim to tackle climate change during the recently held Amazon Web Services (AWS) Clean Energy & Climate Tech Roadshow. The companies—which included startups, scaleups and small- and medium-sized businesses—each had about 90 seconds to present on the virtual stage set by one of the world’s biggest tech giants.

In addition to advanced materials, technologies focused on energy storage; carbon capture, utilization and storage; economic hydrogen generation, transport and use; grid modernization; energy security and resilience; energy trading, solar energy; electric vehicle charging and geothermal energy.

Circa biotech
Circa Biotech’s core business involves selling insect protein to animal feed manufacturers and fertilizer to farms, but the company is adding a new revenue stream by delivering sustainable drilling lubricants to the oil and gas industry and sustainable aviation fuel. (Source: Circa Biotech)

Accelerating clean energy

With a target to hit net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, Amazon is delivering millions of packages in emissions-free vehicles, cargo e-bicycles and on-foot deliveries to help shrink its carbon footprint. It’s also investing heavily in renewable energy, sealing power purchase agreements with solar and wind farms to power its operations.

This comes as AWS helps to fill what Howard Gefen, general manager of AWS’ energy and utilities industry business unit, calls a major gap in the path for achieving decarbonization: developing and scaling needed technologies.

“While we’re a leader in sustainability as a company, we also want to enable other companies that we work with to accelerate clean energy and low carbon across their own value chain,” said Gefen. “If we can connect them and help them with work with innovators around the world, well then that’s a wonderful thing.”

To make that happen, AWS has been investing in accelerators to work with some of its biggest customers to enable smaller businesses to move faster and further. “We believe their knack for experimentation, iteration and constant improvement is a natural fit for leveraging technology and tackling climate change,” Gefen said.

AWS launched its first Clean Energy Accelerator program in 2021. Participants are mentored by industry and thought leaders on topics such as energy, digital competency, investment, public policy, innovation and advanced research, according to AWS. Spurring co-innovation through energy collaboration is at the program’s core.

It recently launched the Energy and Climate Lab, facilitating clean energy partnerships with emerging businesses with breakthrough technologies.

“In the past 22 months, this effort has influenced over $247 million in seed round funding, 16 pilot project kickoffs and over 60 pilot proposals in assessment this year alone,” Gefen said. “Together with the Energy and Climate Lab, this effort has attracted over 1,100 organizations from 65 countries.”

Showcasing companies

The showcase, held virtually last week, took place in the leadup to the UN’s COP28 scheduled for Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 in Dubai.

Energy storage companies outnumbered the rest. Presenting companies included U.K.-based Arenko, a battery optimizer that uses its Nimbus software to analyze battery performance and financial performance of battery assets.

“Our software controls grid scale batteries and renewable energy systems for energy companies with large portfolios,” said Beks Yelland, product director for Arenko. “We leverage cloud automation and grid edge hardware and AI to optimize operation and revenue.”

The company’s software is already deployed in 25% of the U.K.’s battery systems. Yelland explained that Arenko’s Nimbus standardizes insights across asset portfolios and properties, emphasizing “flexible integration and a deep understanding offering both machine interfaces, APIs [application programming interfaces], and human interfaces for intelligent asset management and revenue maximization.”

Arenko is also among the startups participating in AWS Clean Energy Accelerator 3.0.

Criterion Energy Partners was the lone geothermal energy startup in the showcase. The Houston-based company, which counts Chesapeake Energy Corp. as an investor, has two projects underway in Texas.

“We are developing distributed energy projects that are co-located with large commercial or industrial facilities to reduce their emissions and strengthen their energy supply,” said Criterion Co-founder Sean Marshall. “The patent pending Criterion geothermal system includes production and injection wells, a topside power facility as well as a smart microgrid.”

Geothermal energy harnesses heat belowground using wells to drill into reservoirs. The heat extracted can be used for industrial purposes, to heat or cool homes and buildings via direct use heat, or to generate electricity with higher temperature geothermal resources.

“Since going full time in early 2021, we have participated in a leading incubator and accelerator programs, raised strategic investment, built a 21,000-acre lease portfolio as well as many other accomplishments,” Marshall said. “We’re currently focusing on fundraising to support the advancement of both our digital solutions and our project pipeline. The time to unlock this opportunity is now, but we need your help.”