Beetle larvae as biodegraders of styrofoam and organic waste

EPA Grant Number: SU839283
Title: Beetle larvae as biodegraders of styrofoam and organic waste
Investigators: Nansen, Christian
Current Investigators: Nansen, Christian , Fowles, Trevor , Cheng, Brian , Favilla, Amanda
Institution: University of California - Davis
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: September 1, 2017 through September 30, 2018
Project Amount: $14,998
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2017) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Awards , Sustainability , P3 Challenge Area - Materials & Chemicals


Our design emphasizes economic feasibility, community engagement, and environmental stewardship. To be sustainable, the project will connect local community stakeholders with research expertise to produce an ecofriendly alternative for styrofoam disposal. To meet these objectives, the project has four components; 1) optimizing parameters influencing styrofoam biodegradation; 2) modeling and designing a pilot system that maximizes degradation and nutritional value of beetle larvae; 3) project integration in collaboration with local agricultural producers and waste management to meet real world waste demands; (4) community engagement to share the novel aspect of this concept and educate local school children about the concepts of sustainability.


Styrofoam (polystyrene) is one of the leading contributors to landfill waste. Darkling beetle larvae (Tenebrio molitor) have the ability to consume styrofoam due to identified gut-symbionts. This project will implement and optimize darkling beetle biodegradation to address the challenges of disposing styrofoam. After providing their biodegradation services, the beetles can be pelletized for animal feed, and the excrements can be used as high-value amendment to compost mixtures. While styrofoam by itself is a poor nutrient source for the beetle larvae, this waste material can be mixed with organic waste materials, such as, pulp from wine and tomato industries, to optimize beetle development.


In this project, we will optimize each of these aspects in implementing beetles for styrofoam biodegradation. We will increase beetles’ biodegradation service through breeding for high-performance biodegradation of styrofoam, optimizing rearing parameters, and developing optimal mixtures of styrofoam and organic waste. Additionally, we will quantify the quality of the resulting byproducts, insect protein and larval excrement, for possible commercialization opportunities. The outcome will be designs of a pilot system, which will incorporate real world styrofoam and organic waste in collaboration with regional stakeholders.

Expected Results:

This project is based on existing science. Our design takes this novel concept, optimizes and implements it to meet the rigorous demands of real world styrofoam and organic waste management. In Phase I of the project the research team will produce a strain of high-performance, nutritionally valuable styrofoam biodegrading beetles and designs for an optimized pilot program to take in regional styrofoam and organic waste. Success of the project will be measured by publications and presentations, designs of a pilot-scale styrofoam biodegradation unit, and establishment of a high-performance beetle lineage.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 1 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Cradle to cradle, life cycle analysis, recycling technologies, closed loop recycling, renewable feedstocks, model for sustainability, feed stocks, recycling, waste to value, agricultural byproducts, animal feed

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2018 Progress Report
  • Final Report