If HVAC contractors found meeting the demands of cannabis growers challenging, wait until they start working in the latest growing field — insect protein. The edible insect industry is projected to be reach $1.336 billion by 2025, and could be worth $8 billion by 2030. Roughly 2 billion people in 130 countries, including Kenya, Thailand and Mexico, already regularly eat insects.
People generally associate the word “insect” with something disgusting. But many insects are incredibly nutritious, and a key, sustainable solution to help us tackle food shortages, global warming, and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The meat industry already takes an enormous toll on the environment, gobbling up huge amounts of land and water. To put it in perspective, to produce one pound of beef, you need around 5,000 gallons of water, whereas to produce one pound of cricket protein, you need less than 5 gallons of water.
For the most part, feed insects need to breed indoors, and this comes with very exact HVAC requirements. In conventional animal farming, heating or cooling is normally provided just to prevent exposure to extreme conditions; in insect farming, it is a requirement to ensure productivity. As these insect protein businesses scale up, HVAC will be one of their main challenges.
HEATING AND COOLING
To keep the temperature at the required level, several elements could be used depending on the requirements of the insect species. Each species of insect comes with its own requirements. For example, crickets need a temperature of 85°F and 30-40 percent humidity. However, in order for insects to become a viable food source for people and animals, they need to grow everywhere. This means replicating the natural conditions in which the insects grow.
There are various devices that can be implemented for insect mass rearing. This includes water heating systems like storage tank water heaters, on demand water heaters, heat pump water heaters, hybrid heat pump water heaters, hot-water supply boilers, and a combination of them. If heating is provided from the floor (eg, through hot water piping), the heat will distribute uniformly in the room by lifting the hot air from the base to the top. But if heat is to be distributed by air, this can be done using hot-water heat exchangers. Construction of this type of system is costly, but when heating requirements are high, this is one of the most commonly used systems.
Air conditioners or heat pumps could be used either to heat or to cool down rooms. Heat pumps are often used in insect mass rearing facilities because, in addition to being energy efficient, they can be used for cooling and heating using one single device and are easy to implement in climate automatization systems. Implementation cost is high but they are very flexible and have a fast reaction to changes. One of the latest innovations in heat pumps is the use of geothermal energy (geothermal heat pumps). They save energy but are more expensive due to ground perforations required for installation of the geothermic heat exchanger.
Right now, the industry consists of a lot of small players, although there are some large U.S. companies, such as Aspire Food Group. As a result, most improvise their HVAC systems using off-the-shelf technology. Although climate control is a must for these companies, it’s also a major investment for a low-margin business. This makes investing in necessarily robust systems a challenge. The low margins also means farm owners have concerns about energy efficiency and other ways to control costs.
Vendors interested in pursuing this industry need to understand these concerns, along with specific requirements of breeding. If they do so, it could mean a lot of potential work for HVAC contractors who aren’t bugged by working with bugs. There is huge potential in this marketplace, and as planet earth warms and the population grows toward 10 billion people by 2050, we will need to rethink our approach to food production. Insects might just be the solution we’ve been looking for.