Empire State Development Announces Innovative Pilot Plant on Buffalo’s East Side to Create Sustainable Protein Source for use in Aquaculture Feed

March 16, 2021

The River Road Research Facility Will Produce Alternative to Wild Caught Fishmeal and Reduce GHG Emissions

Empire State Development (ESD) today announced River Road Research is building a pilot plant on Buffalo’s East Side that will transform food waste into a sustainable protein source useful in pet food, poultry, and aquaculture feed. The patented technology process addresses multiple environmental problems; decreasing the amount of waste headed to greenhouse-gas emitting landfills while reclaiming the key nutrients of the food waste to create an alternative and sustainable protein source. The project is expected to be complete in December 2021.

“River Road Research’s pilot plant on Buffalo’s East Side is a symbol of the innovation-based economy that is emerging in Western New York, and boosting job creation while creating a cleaner, greener and more sustainable future,” said Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul. “This eco-friendly process will result in a reduction of food waste and pollution, and produce economically competitive protein from nonagricultural land.” 

“Our state has a rich history of being on the cutting edge of agricultural industry technology. River Road Research is yet another example of the many innovative and groundbreaking companies that have chosen to grow and nurture their business in Western New York," said Empire State Development Acting Commissioner and President & CEO-designate Eric Gertler. "This company's decision to establish its pilot plant in this region will spur the local economy while creating jobs and helping Western New York build back better.”

In the United States alone, more than forty million tons of food waste is produced annually, most of which is not recycled. Food waste is rich in energy, water, and nutrients. River Road Research recognizes food waste as the next “feed stock” for the international biomass economy and has developed a unique environmentally sustainable fermentation technology that stabilizes food waste and transforms it into an ideal feed for insect rearing.  Using the food waste as an insect feed, River Road Research will raise black soldier fly larvae for protein meal.  The insect-based protein meal can be used as a substitute for less sustainable protein ingredients currently used in animal and aquaculture feeds.

In addition to the problem of food waste, our oceans are being depleted as a protein source for our growing global population.  Over half of the global population relay on our oceans as a protein source, which has contributed to both overfishing and a loss of diversity of species.  By sustainably converting food waste into a protein source useful in poultry and aquaculture feed formulations, we can reduce pressure on the forage fish critical to our ocean's health.

The global pandemic has also revealed many weaknesses in food security.  According to NOAA Fisheries reporting, the United States imports about $17B more seafood than it exports.  This trade imbalance constitutes an opportunity to create ‘green collar’ jobs domestically by investing in the aquaculture industry.  River Road Research believes that domestically produced, sustainable and affordable protein will help support expansion of the aquaculture industry in the United States, and in New York State.

“There is currently a great need to find better solutions for the disposal of food waste.  Additionally, the growing global population demands a sustainable source of protein for animal and aquaculture feeds,” said Scott Ernst, Managing Director of River Road Research.  “Our process provides a solution to these societal level issues, and it does so in an economic yet still responsible way. The process reclaims and re-uses virtually all the key nutrients in the food waste while generating fewer greenhouse gas emissions than alternatives such as landfilling, composting, and anaerobic digestion.”  

River Road Research Buffalo Pilot Plant will be located at 52 Leslie Street, a previously abandoned building on Buffalo’s East Side.  River Road Research will be investing $1,311,000 and creating 7 full-time jobs. They are eligible for up to $56,000 through the Excelsior Tax Credit Program in exchange for promised job commitments. The New York Power Authority is also supporting the project with a $220,000 award under the Western New York Power Proceeds program to River Road Research that will leverage more than $1 million in capital investments. The NYPA funding award is made possible through net earnings resulting from the sale of unused hydropower generated at NYPA's Niagara power plant and stems from power proceeds legislation signed into law by Governor Cuomo in 2012.

John R. Koelmel, NYPA chairman and Buffalo resident, said, “New, innovative companies—like River Road Research—are being drawn to Buffalo as a place to establish themselves and grow. It’s exciting to witness the Western New York economy expand and NYPA is proud to be a contributing factor in bringing new enterprises and fresh ideas to the region.”

The concept of domesticating black soldier flies to break down food and reuse it as feed has been practices for several decades. The process (shown here) relatively simple; adult black soldier flies mate, the females lay eggs which are collected to incubate. Several days later the larvae hatch and the pre-processed food waste is brought in to be fed to black soldier fly larvae, in a specially constructed growth room. The larvae will then act as bioreactors, digesting the food waste. A black soldier fly larva can consume twice its weight in food each day. After they reach their desired size the larvae are harvested and dried, then separated from bedding material and processed in a screw press to separate oil from protein meal.  This insect-based protein meal is a substitute for fish meal or other conventional proteins in aquaculture and poultry feeds.  River Road Research also has significant capability to produce non-synthetic fertilizers and plant growth enhancer products to support carbon sequestration in crop farming.

Senator Tim Kennedy said, "As we build back after the COVID-19 pandemic, we must prioritize innovative ways to strengthen New York's economy and invest in sustainable alternatives that align with New York's environmental goals. River Road Research's pilot plant in Buffalo will help to grow our city's workforce, and further enhance our state's commitment to creative, green strategies that will carry us forward."

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said, "I'd like to congratulate and thank River Road Research for choosing the Bailey Green neighborhood for establishing their sustainable business and creating jobs. Reducing the amount of food waste that ends up in landfills and repurposing it as feed stock are just the type of alternative and sustainable solutions New York is seeking to combat climate change.”

Mayor Byron Brown said, "This creative effort to transform food waste into a product that can be used as animal and aquaculture feed, is a great fit for the City of Buffalo as we broaden our commitment to the environment as a Climate Refuge City which has adopted Climate Smart and Clean Energy policies. It also fits with our increasingly successful household recycling efforts, which have grown to include form waste recycling. I also applaud River Road Research’s selection of a long vacant site on Buffalo’s East Side as home of the pilot project, as well as the creation of new jobs and the potential for growth of a new industry.”

County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, “Buffalo’s East Side continues its’ revitalization with River Road Research’s decision to build a plant on Leslie Street, an investment of over $1.3 million that creates seven new jobs and brings an old, unused building back to life. It’s a big win for the community and another example of why Erie County is a great place to locate and grow a business.”

More information about River Road Research can be found here.

About Empire State Development
Empire State Development (ESD) is New York’s chief economic development agency (www.esd.ny.gov). The mission of ESD is to promote a vigorous and growing economy, encourage the creation of new job and economic opportunities, increase revenues to the State and its municipalities, and achieve stable and diversified local economies. Through the use of loans, grants, tax credits and other forms of financial assistance, ESD strives to enhance private business investment and growth to spur job creation and support prosperous communities across New York State. ESD is also the primary administrative agency overseeing Governor Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils and the marketing of “I LOVE NY,” the State’s iconic tourism brand.  For more information on Regional Councils and Empire State Development, please visit www.regionalcouncils.ny.gov and www.esd.ny.gov.

Pamm Lent | [email protected] | (716) 846-8309
Laura Magee | [email protected] | (716) 846-8239