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Robotic insect farms make a meal of food waste

Tuesday 27 July 2021

Investing for innovation in waste

In Australia, around 7.3 million tonnes of our food goes to waste every year. As well as costing the economy billions of dollars, this food waste accounts for more than five per cent of our greenhouse emissions. It’s certainly no small problem – but it’s one that Canberra-based entrepreneur Olympia Yarger is determined to tackle.

The founder and CEO of Goterra, Olympia is leading the way in developing closed loop waste management systems. Her ground-breaking robotic insect farms turn food waste into fertiliser. “Farming insects is nothing new,” explains Olympia. “But what is new is the box we’ve made for the insects to live in – it’s essentially a robotic insect farm. Insects need a place to live, have their environment managed and be fed. If we can do this autonomously, we take away a lot of the cost of managing the insects.”

Our robotic insect farms accept, treat and mash up food waste, then convey it to the larvae of black soldier flies so they can eat it. The end result is a bunch of manure, which can be used as fertiliser, and a bunch of insects, which can be turned into livestock or pet food.
Olympia Yarger
Founder and CEO, Goterra

Each Goterra insect farm is capable of processing an impressive five tonnes of food waste a day. The system is also portable, avoiding the logistical challenges and environmental costs of transporting the food waste to the insects. “We can move the insect farms via shipping containers, which means they can be set up wherever our clients need a solution to their food waste problems,” says Olympia.

The commercialisation of Goterra’s innovation was made possible by an investment from Tenacious Ventures – Australia’s first and only agrifood tech venture capital firm. The CEFC, through the Clean Energy Innovation Fund, is a proud cornerstone investor in Tenacious Ventures.

“Goterra is a fantastic example of why the Clean Energy Innovation Fund invested with Tenacious Ventures,” says Blair Pritchard, Innovation Fund Director.

Goterra is addressing the problem of food waste, which is a huge challenge worldwide. By turning it into a valuable by-product, Goterra is creating a sustainable and scalable business model. It’s practical, innovative and effective, and an exciting demonstration of the future of Australian agtech start-ups.
Blair Pritchard
Director, Clean Energy Innovation Fund, CEFC

Drawing on an $8 million investment from Tenacious Ventures and Mike Cannon-Brookes’ Grok Ventures, Goterra has already been able to build six of its full-size robot insect farms, which are deployed across Sydney and Canberra. “We have plans for there to be many, many more,” adds Olympia, who sees scope for Goterra’s insect farms to be used right across Australia.

“One of the most important things we’ll be able to do with this technology is to create infrastructure flexibility and capability so that we can better manage our food waste by creating a circular economy,” she says.

For us it’s about delivering circular economy capability where it doesn’t exist, and having that opportunity democratised across metropolitan, regional and rural Australia.
Olympia Yarger
Founder and CEO, Goterra

While Olympia has grand plans for Goterra, one thing she has learned is never to make assumptions. “As an entrepreneur, you need to remember that you know nothing, and you should never stop asking questions! Those two things are closely linked. You need to remind yourself, if you’ve created something new, you don’t always know what you’ve created… or what’s coming next.”

Articles, 2021