No to licences, no to loans, no to sludge. But that won’t stop black soldier fly family start up

Steve Hernes

Met opposition from authorities, the EU and the bank with youthful rigour.

These days, the two entrepreneurs are chasing another EUR 0.5 million to EUR 1.5 million in fresh capital. This will be used for scale-up to pilot production. The way forward to establish a factory in Meløy, Meløy, Northern Norway, will not be easy for the two.

From Nova Sea, four research licences were applied to develop feed products from the larvae.

“Such a licence would have allowed us to research and product development for a ten-year period,” said Ole Torrissen. He believes that it had given Ecoprot good opportunities to develop superb protein and fat products.

No to licence
This application was recently rejected by the Directorate of Fisheries. Ecoprot, in cooperation with Nova Sea, does not give up for that reason and has now appealed the rejection.

Read more: Family start-up wants to feed 10,000 tonnes of salmon with soldier fly larvae

“As we read the text of the rejection, it looks more like they had decided that no more research licences can be awarded. Then they’ve tried to find an argument that it’s possible to refuse. We think it’s a little weird,” sighed Ole Torrissen.

“A few years ago, much of the innovation was created by research licences. Today, it says it is not innovation that is the purpose, but only research. If we look at what has been awarded by licences, all industrial research licences are,” according to Torrissen.

Asbjørn Torrisen outside the building they bought from Codfarmers.

Difficult banks
The first critical phase was intermediary financing. Torrissen isn’t exactly finding that the money comes easy.

“We have grants from innovation Norway, but the money is only paid out when the investments are made,” he said.

“You often hear that there is access to capital, but it is not easy to obtain. The banks are completely absent. They don’t take any risks at all,” said Torrissen.

Big brother Ole Torrissen followed up on the lack of risk appetite at the banks.

“We are surprised. In that phase, we had equity in place. Even with a transport declaration with a guarantee in the pledge from Innovation Norway, it was not possible”.

“An interim financing of three to four million (EUR 0.3 million and EUR 0.4 million .ed) was not possible from the banks,” said Torrissen. The solution was for the family company Romar Invest to mid-fund at a reasonable interest rate.

Asbjørn Torrisen in the production room of Ecoprot.

A stupid piece of legislation
In addition to the grant, Ecoprot has received a total grant of EUR 1.2 million. This also includes EUR 70,000 from MABIT on the use of sludge as feed for the larvae. The MABIT-programme is an industrial R&D program for Marine Biotechnology in northern Norway.

In the region around Ecoprot, there are as many as three hatchery facilities that have huge amounts of sludge. The larvae grow very well and quickly in the sludge. It is a reasonable resource and would be very good to exploit in a circular economy.

“The sludge from hatcheries contains about twice as much fat and protein as it is in a standard chicken feed today. There is a lot of good industry that is now being wasted or sent by boat to Vietnam,” he said.

In these blue crates, the larvae today enjoy feed mainly from expired fruits and vegetables and out-of-date milk from grocery stores.

EU rules put an end to it today.

“It’s a pretty idiotic piece of legislation that doesn’t take into account that insect larvae are designed to live on mud. We believed and hoped for knowledge-based management in this country. It is not evidence-based, but EU rules-based,” said marine scientist Ole Torrissen.

Had they been able to use the sludge, they could have grown quickly and efficiently.

“Only with the sludge from the local hatchery fish producers, sped on with a little seaweed, would we have been quickly up to the target of 30,000 tonnes. This would be economically good production,” added Torrissen.

Helgeland Smolt facility. The sludge could have been used for fly feed. Photo: Christin Hiller

Like a sledgehammer
“Someone has to take responsibility for changing the regulations. We have raised this first with the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. They concluded that this was not their remit. It had to go to the ministry. Then we had our local Center Party representative ask Minister Bollestad questions,” he said.

Torrissen explained that she raised her hands and pushed the case back to the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. But, they reconnected with the Norwegian Food Safety Authority and have just had a meeting.

“They said they would look at opportunities again, but were not optimistic about changing EU rules. But we intend to hang on to those who are concerned that a rule change is being worked on,” said Torrissen.

“If we had not spent our own money and the funds from MABIT, we would not have had the knowledge and documentation that it can be used risk-free. It does not contain any harmful products,” he added.

“It’s just an idiotic set of rules justified in another production technology. We hope that reason prevails in the end. It is pure idiocy to throw away such a valuable resource,” said Ole Torrissen.

Entrepreneurship genes
The Torrissen family is full of entrepreneurial genes. Ole Torrissen has been given his grandfather’s name. After World War II, grandfather Ole Torrissen established a large fishing boat company. It came naturally to then than to call the vessel “M/S Ole Torrissen”.

“M/S Ole Torrissen” was built in 1942. PHOTO: PHOTO:

The Torrissen shipping company completely discontinued fishing boat operations in 1990. Then they went ashore for good and invested heavily in salmon and trout farming. A myriad of companies have spun out in Meløy by the family for several generations.

Despite adversity, the brothers are clear that they will achieve the goal. A new factory is planned at Galtneset not far from Halsa, Northern Norway. The shovel is scheduled to be put into the ground early next year and is due to be operational in 2023.

Ole and Asbjørn Torrissen said the company will balance out next year, and with a profit in the year 2023. Then it’ll be a bit of retirement, the two of them smiled.

Ole Torrissen and Asbjørn Torrissen.

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