Nothing goes to waste when Volare turns industrial food side streams into circular proteins, oils and fertilisers

Emilia Nordlund

Volare is a Finnish deep tech startup that leverages black soldier flies to upcycle food industry side streams that would otherwise end up in a landfill. From the side streams, Volare creates high-quality proteins and oils for animal feed and pet food, as well as agricultural and oleochemical applications. This spin-off from VTT is on its way to change the world and solve the global food system challenge.

Feeding the ever-growing world population with a flawed and wasteful food systems has led us to overconsume the limited resources on our planet. As a result, fish populations across the world are declining and forests are being cut down to make space for agriculture and animal grazing. Moreover, the food industry is responsible for around a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Due to poor adaptation of circular practices, the global food industry is wasting food and nutrients – the very same resources – at an unprecedented rate.

To Volare, the global food system is broken. Thankfully, they are here to help solve it. 

Reducing the environmental burden of the food system

Volare’s goal is to realise the now wasted potential in the food system and to allow nothing to go to waste.

“I’m driven by the desire to find better and more efficient ways to use different food industry side streams,” says Tuure Parviainen, CEO of Volare. That desire has guided his career path and eventually led him to join VTT’s research team working on an ultra-efficient way to keep nutrients in the food chain. And find that way they did – with the help of the black soldier fly.

“Volare’s unique technology is able to take just about any raw material side stream, be it wet or dry, and upcycle it as ingredients for sectors such as pet food, agriculture and even aviation in the future,” explains Parviainen.  
Volare’s circular solution is completely based on waste generated by the existing food industry, and there’s plenty of that to go around ¬– 90 million tonnes every year just in the EU alone.

“There was a real need and a market for a solution that saved all those valuable food materials from going to waste,” Parviainen says. 

Meet the world’s most efficient bioreactor: the black soldier fly

The digestive tract of insects is far superior to that of humans and other mammals. Insects can digest foods such as the hard husks of grains that we simply cannot. And one of the most gifted gourmands of the insect world is the black soldier fly, with its 17 different digestive enzymes. 

The incredible capabilities of the black soldier fly to break down different materials was the reason Volare chose the insect as their biomaterial converter. At Volare, black soldier flies feed on basically any food industry side streams.

Another thing that makes black soldier flies unique is the ease of farming them. “Many insects are vulnerable to illnesses when grown on a larger scale,” explains Parviainen. “This species, however, has no known illnesses, meaning we don’t have to use any chemicals or antibiotics when farming them. It truly is a super species.”

In search of big, global impact

According to Parviainen, what led to the founding of Volare was the desire to do even more for the environment – to create something with a big impact. 

“We knew that by introducing a fully circular production method to the market, one which provides an alternative to emission-intensive raw materials while creating zero new side streams had the potential to make a big difference,” says Parviainen.

He believes that concrete action based on science and scientific research is the only way to make a big impact fast.

“Normally, it takes 5 to 15 years before new technologies emerge and are more widely embraced. The long lead time is a huge risk for companies,” explains Parviainen. “Scientific spin-offs are much more agile and nimble, and they offer a much better way to manage the risks.” 

The driving forces behind Volare’s success

Volare’s story has been that of success, with support from a few helping hands. VTT and its deep tech incubator VTT LaunchPad had a role to play. VTT brought together Tuure Parviainen and Matti Tähtinen, the founders of Volare, and provided them with access to all the expertise they could need.

The way Parviainen sees it, the key to creating something pioneering and unique is combining processes and expertise that normally wouldn’t go together. And that’s what VTT excels in. “VTT is amazing at enabling cooperation between different, seemingly unrelated sectors. They really helped us in moving forward,” Parviainen says. “It’s my belief that VTT houses some of Finland’s smartest people under one roof,” he applauds.

VTT LaunchPad was a crucial milestone in Volare’s push to change the world for the better. According to Parviainen, it was during the training programme that they realised how ready and easy to scale up their technology really was. That made the decision to advance the technology and spin out Volare the only sensible choice. 

What’s next for Volare?

Volare’s insect-based protein can already be found in commercial products such as dog food and bird food. Next, the company plans to build an industrial-scale facility that can produce around 5,000 tons of environmentally friendly protein and oils annually. And they already have their eyes set on the rest of Europe. 

“We have begun scouting possible locations and partner networks in Northern, Central and Eastern Europe,” reveals Parviainen. “We are happy to partner up with any company that is looking to use ultra-sustainable, high-quality protein and oils in their products.”

“Our goal is to eliminate 500,000 tons of CO2 emissions by 2030,” reveals Parviainen. 

And, according to Volare, that is just the beginning.

Our vision beyond 2030

Demand for food is growing at the same rate as the world population. Food production needs to be both sufficiently efficient and less harmful for the environment than before. The challenge is massive, but big steps have already been taken in the right direction.