Gainesville's BioTork working on Hawaii expansions
Published: Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 11:23 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 11:23 a.m.
Eudes de Crecy says 40-50 percent of the papayas in Hawaii are lost before exportation, either because farmers know they aren't worth sending off or because they're thrown out at the packing site from rot or other signs of decay.
So the company de Crecy heads as CEO, Gainesville-based BioTork, had what an outsider might figure to be a crazy idea: turning such agricultural waste into fish food.
"And why fish feed?" he asked. "Because the fish-feed business is booming in the world, and there is more and more need of fish feed for fish farms. … The beauty of that is we are using some kind of waste to be able to produce a very high-valued compound."
BioTork's technology involves developing algae and fungi that will feed on the agricultural waste to produce proteins and omega-3 oils needed for food in fish farms. The objective is to "force organisms to eat something they don't like to eat," de Crecy said of the algae and fungi.
The fish feed is in addition to work BioTork is also doing on biofuels.
BioTork first partnered with Hawaii in 2010. Work started with the papaya but has since expanded to bananas, pineapples, sweet potatoes, invasive albizzia plants and molasses, which killed masses of fish in a 2013 spill into Honolulu Harbor.
"The beauty of our technology is … you can take the same organism and now teach him how to eat banana instead of papaya," de Crecy said. "If your agriculture by-product has some carbon source available, we will be able to educate an organism to physically eat that."
In addition to other existing funding and collaboration efforts, BioTork recently acquired another leg up: the state of Hawaii's Department of Budget and Finance issued bonds of up to $50 million to help the company in preparing its commercial biofuel and feed facilities.
BioTork plans to share its Hawaii profits with those supplying the crops and plants.
BioTork's new company, BioTork Hawaii LLC, is still in the planning stages, with no commercial sales yet out of Hawaii, de Crecy said. But, as the "industry is extremely excited by this," he hopes to have a pre-commercialization status in three or four months, with full commercialization sometime in 2015.
Instead of building from scratch, there are existing facilities that BioTork will be using that will save on time and money, he added.
When BioTork was founded in 2008, de Crecy said turning waste into some type of food for farming animals was a goal.
Fish feed eventually was chosen because of the high costs of the food for fish farms and because of the environmental necessity of them over ocean fishing, he said.
For 1 pound of fish, farmers must contribute an average of 4 pounds of feed, and different types of feed are needed depending on the species and age of the fish, de Crecy said.
"Fish need some very expensive components to be able to grow," he said, adding that BioTork won't be a producer of the end product but instead will turn specific compounds over to fish-feed manufacturers.
The ecological benefit stems from increasing the potential profits in fish farming. "There is no way we can sustain fishing the way we do and expect the ocean not to be depleted. There is no way," de Crecy said. "So fish farming is very seriously needed, and the fish-feed price is the reason it's not going well."
The real savings comes in the crops being wasted, de Crecy said.
When you ferment corn to ethanol, "the cost of the corn is the main cost of the whole fermentation," he said. "Papaya waste has no value, like zero. It starts with zero (value) as far as the feedstock. So you can imagine the savings we can produce."
The company is focusing on making the compounds, but it may consider licensing the technology in the future, de Crecy said.
"We are kind of reluctant about licensing the technology, but it some cases, it could make sense," he said.