IPP&T Magazine Online

Cricket facility to produce protein with low environmental impact

February 17, 2021   Don Horne

A multi-partner project led by Aspire Food Group is expected to revolutionize food-grade protein production and address food insecurity and the high environmental cost of protein production.

“At $16.8 million in NGen funding, this project represents a high mark for NGen,” said Jayson Myers, CEO, NGen (Next Generation Manufacturing Canada). “This is a truly innovative and ground-breaking project and supports the objectives of NGen – developing transformative and applied world class advanced manufacturing solutions while creating mutually beneficial partnerships that have will have a positive impact on Canadians and the economy.”

Aspire has begun construction of the state-of-the-art high density cricket production and demonstration facility employing 60 people in London, Ont.

Aspire’s collaborators, TELUS Agriculture, A&L Canada Laboratories Inc., Swiftlabs Inc., and DarwinAI, are contributing to and will be show-casing their high performance technologies as part of the facility. The operations will employ industrial automation and robotics, IoT, and deep learning/analytics to farm crickets that have a similar protein quality to meat and an environmental footprint similar (or even better) than plants. The automated and modular technology can be scaled and utilized in any geography as well as across other industry sectors.

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“Our collaboration with these innovative Canadian firms within the walls of this new facility will have far-reaching effect. The facility will establish Canada as a leader in the rapidly growing insect and protein industries. The technologies and products developed by TELUS Agriculture, Swift Labs, DarwinAI, and A&L Laboratories will accelerate technology adoption in the manufacturing and agricultural industries and grow an inclusive and digitally skilled workforce.” Mohammed Ashour, CEO and co-founder, Aspire Food Group.

The impact the production facility will have on the Canadian advanced manufacturing ecosystem and on the economy is significant. The demonstration project is a model of Industry 4.0. This is the first time industrial IoT, sensors, ASRS and AI will be deployed in climate controlled, indoor vertical agriculture with living organisms.

“By tackling food insecurity with this unique opportunity, not only can we showcase our world class engineering team, but we also put Canadian innovation on a Global stage, says Lara Swift, CEO of Swift Labs. “The partnership we have with Telus, to build these custom advanced-manufacturing sensors, is something that allows us to tackle real problems and use ‘tech for good’.”

The collaborators have joined in a project to leverage technology to address one of the most significant social challenges of our generation – feeding the world, while improving the quality and safety of our food. The facility will highlight the sustainability of non-meat protein processing, establishing an insect protein supply chain in Canada featuring world class technology and leading to job creation.

“TELUS, and our recently-launched TELUS Agriculture division, are committed to leveraging our world-leading technology to improve food security across the globe. Feeding an ever-expanding population requires new, innovative ways of thinking about our food system from farm to fork, and we are proud to support Aspire’s mission to provide a stable source of alternative protein to the food value chain,” said Francois Gratton, EVP and group president, TELUS, and chair, TELUS Health and TELUS Agriculture. “With expertise in a diverse set of industries and technologies, TELUS is uniquely positioned to contribute to Aspire’s efforts on several fronts, including TELUS Ventures’ previously-announced investment in the project, a 5G-ready private network to connect TELUS IoT sensors that help increase food safety at the facility, and TELUS and TELUS Agriculture executives lending their business and industry expertise in an advisory capacity. Sustainably solving food security here in Canada, and across the globe, is a substantial task, and we are strengthened to have Aspire and NGen in on that effort.”

The project will develop the world’s first fully automated food grade, insect protein manufacturing site, positioning Canada as a leader in this space. DarwinAI, TELUS Agriculture, Swift Labs and A&L Canada Laboratories are leaders in their industries.

“We are extremely excited about applying our technology to such an innovative and forward-looking initiative,” said Sheldon Fernandez, CEO of DarwinAI. “Our unique ability to illuminate the ‘black box’ of Artificial Intelligence has enabled transformative AI in numerous contexts, and the opportunity to advance the important causes of food security and next-generation manufacturing is special indeed. We look forward to helping the Aspire Food Group implement their ambitious vision.”

This project is the largest endeavour-funded by NGen to date under Ottawa’s Innovation Supercluster Initiative. NGen investments help build consortia that facilitate broader collaboration and cooperation among SMEs and supporting organizations to accelerate the implementation, scale-up, and commercialization of advanced technologies for manufacturing in Canada.

“A&L is excited to collaborate on this project as it fully aligns with our mission of supporting sustainable development,” said Nevin McDougall, president and CCO of A&L Canada Laboratories. “Our expertise resides in biological and agri-food systems so we have much to contribute and learn from this initiative.”


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