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ECONOMY

Watch now: Decatur bug protein plant will be the biggest in the world

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Nizar EL Alami, vice president for industrial deployment, provides an update on the Innovafeed manufacturing plant coming to Decatur. Ground is expected to be broken this year, with the plant becoming operational in 2024.

Economic Development Corporation of Decatur’s Nicole Bateman talks about Innovafeed bringing jobs to Decatur

DECATUR — The high-tech industrial entrepreneur firm that aims to be the lord of the flies says its Decatur insect protein processing plant will be the biggest in the world.

Design work on the $250 million Innovafeed project is already underway with groundbreaking expected later this year. Breeding operations for the insects — they’re called black soldier flies — is due to start by the end of 2024 and the aim is to produce up to 60,000 tons of bug protein a year.

Construction had originally been scheduled to begin in 2021 but Innovafeed's Communications Director, Caroline Sasia, said complications caused by the COVID outbreak had delayed plans. Now, she said, everything is ready for take off and the company, backed by venture capitalists and sovereign wealth funds, has solid financing. 

The Decatur plant is expected to hatch more than 280 direct jobs and some 400 indirect jobs linked to servicing the facility. The in-plant jobs range from Phd scientists to engineers and production workers. Recruitment is already beginning for 30 open positions for engineers, project managers and business developers.

French-based Innovafeed is partnering with Archer Daniels Midland Co. and its bug breeding and processing operation will occupy 25 acres already bought from ADM. The plant will be sited off Brush College Road, sandwiched between the huge ADM agricultural processing complex and the Richland Community College campus.

Pipelines from ADM will supply agricultural waste products and much of the energy, in the form of used hot water, needed to feed and nurture the soldier fly grubs which are the source of the protein.

The grubs get humanely dispatched with a flash of 100 degree steam and are then processed into a high-energy protein powder used in animal feed from fish farms to hog and poultry operations and pet chow. Innovafeed described the process as environmentally friendly and with no waste: even the grub feces is turned into fertilizer for agricultural crops.

And get your bon appetit ready: bug protein may soon be showing up a lot more directly on the human menu than just via animal feed.

Innovafeed Vice President for Industrial Deployment, Nizar El Alami, said one of Innovafeed’s big research areas is adding bug protein directly to the human diet as an ingredient in other food products, like protein bar snacks.

“It has all the essential amino acids,” he said of grub-derived nutrition. “We’re working on human consumption.”

Alami, who has dined on live raw grubs himself, isn’t expecting black soldier fly larvae to displace chicken nuggets any time soon, however, in the restaurant drive-thru lanes.

“And it won’t be like you're having grilled bugs for dinner,” he added. “‘Cause we believe humanity won’t go for that, unless forced to.”

Discussing the Innovafeed Decatur project at a news conference Wednesday, Alami said the initial target is to have the Decatur plant producing 15,000 tons of protein by the end of 2024. He said Innovafeed, founded six years ago, has one processing facility already up and running in France and plans to have 10 breeding across the world by 2030. He said the sky's the limit because the animal feed industry alone is a marketplace worth $100 billion.

Innovafeed said it made a bee-line for Decatur because of the obvious attraction of a symbiotic relationship with ADM, the proximity of an educated workforce and the warm welcome it received here.

“We have received a tremendous amount of support from the EDC (Economic Development Corporation of Decatur-Macon County), from the city of Decatur and from the environmental authorities,” he added. “Good local support.”

That support included city council members voting to pick up the bulk of the tab for $1.25 million in new sewer infrastructure to support the Innovafeed plant.

Nicole Bateman, president of the EDC, said persuading the company to come here will create an economic buzz of activity that will yield rich dividends far into the future.

She re-emphasized that every direct job created at a manufacturing facility breeds four more support jobs in the surrounding community.

“And it (Innovafeed) is already attracting other companies,” she said. “We’ve had visits this week from other companies that are interested in locating here in Decatur and Macon County because of the work Innovafeed is going to be doing in our community.”

To check out the jobs looking to be filled now in Decatur with Innovafeed, go to: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeO_GPVkksOmsy1tiHJjxiJxHkm5Dfb5IDCX00kelPKJYgXKw/viewform

Contact Tony Reid at (217) 421-7977. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyJReid

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