Larvae for Managing Food Waste in Northern Cities

EPA Grant Number: SU836810
Title: Larvae for Managing Food Waste in Northern Cities
Investigators: Thorn, Brian
Current Investigators: Thorn, Brian , Brownell, Sarah , Carter, Dawn , Purnama, Ria , Win, Shwe Sin , Piscitelli, Alicia
Institution: Rochester Institute of Technology
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017 (Extended to September 30, 2018)
Project Amount: $14,958
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2016) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Sustainable and Healthy Communities , P3 Awards , P3 Challenge Area - Sustainable and Healthy Communities


Scale up black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) composting in northern regions: design and construct a rearing shed; determine the energy needs to maintain the colony; design and construct a prototype BSFL food waste reactor that can be scaled up to a continuous-feed setting.


The USEPA estimates that “more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in our everyday trash”. There are numerous environmental, economic and political issues associated with traditional methods (landfill, incineration) for managing large volumes of food waste. Alternative approaches could extend the life of existing landfills, reduce tipping costs, and reduce environmental impacts from off-gassing and transportation of heavy wastes. Black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens; Diptera: Stratiomyidae) larvae (BSFL) composting can process a wide variety of food waste, reduce the volume of the waste substantially, and provide useful agricultural and energy byproducts. To date, little research has explored the cultivation of black soldier flies in colder climates. Maintaining a BSFL breeding colony in cold weather conditions will require energy inputs, but the amount of energy required and the emissions that might result have not been fully characterized. To address these gaps our Phase 1 objectives include: 1] design and construction of a BSFL rearing shed based on passive house building principles; 2] determination of the energy needed and emissions generated to maintain a BSFL colony through the Rochester, NY winter (2016/2017); and 3] design and construction of a prototype continuous feed BSFL food waste reactor that can be scaled to meet higher food input levels.


Students from an array of RIT academic programs (Architecture, Chemical Engineering, Industrial and Systems Engineering, Industrial Design, Life Sciences, and Sustainability) will 1] collect data to characterize inputs necessary to sustain a BSFL breeding colony in a northern climate, 2] design a BSFL breeding shed in consultation with a local passive house design professional, 3] construct the shed and install sensing equipment, and 4] design and prototype new concepts for a continuous BSFL food waste reactor. A finalized design will be tested in the shed during Spring 2017.

Expected Results:

At the conclusion of the Phase 1 project we will have characterized inputs needed (heat energy, ventilation, sunlight, food, etc) to sustain a viable BSFL breeding colony in a northern climate. Additionally, we will have access to a regular supply of black soldier fly larvae that will be used in subsequent experiments. A prototype for a scalable continuous BSFL feeding system will have been developed for further testing. RIT’s Senior Sustainability Advisor will be monitoring the performance of the breeding shed and the feeder in order to assess the potential of a larger scale system to handle RIT’s food waste.

Supplemental Keywords:

bioremediation, resource recovery, solid waste management, composting, waste reduction, waste-to-energy, biogas, cost-benefit analysis;

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2017 Progress Report
  • Final Report