Maple Ridge is now being mentioned in the same breath as NASA and space travel thanks to the work being done by Canacompost Systems.
A year ago, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and Impact Canada helped launch the Deep Space Food Challenge in partnership with NASA and the Methuselah Foundation, which accepted applicants from all around the world to help improve the food systems for deep space travel.
According to the official contest website, the Deep Space Food Challenge is “a public competition that seeks to create novel food production technologies or systems that require minimal inputs and maximize safe, nutritious, and palatable food outputs for long-duration space missions, and have potential to benefit people on Earth.”
Canacompost Systems was one of the many applicants who entered through the Canadian branch of the competition, and was later selected as one of the 10 semi-finalists selected in the fall of 2021.
Jovan Werbes, software engineer for Canacompost Systems, explained that the Maple Ridge company, which is comprised of several recent graduates from UBC, BCIT, and SFU, has been developing the experimental composting technology for more than two years.
“Black soldier flies are particularly good at breaking down organic material, improve the overall quality of compost, and require little upkeep to sustain a healthy reproducing population,” said Werbes. “The larvae are also nutritionally complete for chickens, as well as fish and pigs, meaning that an extraterrestrial colony would be able to sustain livestock on the system, given they had enough food waste input.”
This is essential technology according to the Impact Canada website, which said “for long-duration missions in space, food recycling is a mission-critical problem.”
Werbes explained that in addition to helping with deep-space composting, these flies also provide other food-related benefits.
“Black soldier flies are also safe for humans to eat and provide good nutritional value, but for the time being we’re focused on producing inputs for plant and vegetable farming as well as livestock,” he said.
As one of the semi-finalists, Canacompost Systems had to build and demonstrate its composting prototype, which Werbes said they were able to do quite successfully.
“We’ve been able to produce a colony of flies, as well as healthy compost, and can monitor and influence these processes with our built-in computer,” he said. “We’re quite happy with how our system performs and look forward to improving on our design.”
Werbes and his teammates are feeling very hopeful about their chances of being selected as one of the four finalists to advance to the next phase, which will be announced sometime this spring.
“The CSA seemed excited during their judging visit and the team has put countless hours of effort in to have the greatest chance we can at winning,” said Werbes.
If Canacompost Sytems is selected as a finalist, it will have a year to build a full-scale version of its composting technology.
The grand winner of the Canadian branch of the Deep Space Food Challenge will be announced in spring of 2024 and will receive $380,000 in grant funding.
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