Noco-affiliated startup working on pilot site in Buffalo

By Dan Miner
Buffalo Business First

River Road Research was formed 10 years ago with a mission to advance sustainable technology.

It’s almost go-time.

The biotech company – created by and owned by the Newman family of Noco Energy Corp. – is working to stand up a 5,000-square-foot demonstration site on Buffalo’s East Side in the bigger Leslie Street building owned by urban-agriculture outfit Groundwork Market Garden. The project is contingent on a funding package still being developed by River Road.

The pilot facility will make a product that can be tested by potential customers. If it works, a much larger facility will be developed.

“This market is developing on a global scale, and we want to make sure it happens in Buffalo, too,” said Scott Ernst, Noco vice president of corporate operations and River Road managing director. “This facility is a stepping stone in bringing commercial products to market, but in order for it to work economically, it has to be done on a very large scale.”

The problem River Road is trying to solve starts with a burgeoning worldwide population and the challenge of creating a sustainable protein for all those people, Ernst said. Fish are viewed as an environmentally friendly and efficient solution; Ernst said it takes 15 pounds of feed to create one pound of beef, but one pound of feed to create a pound of salmon.

Scott Ernst, managing director of River Road Research (Image courtesy of Noco Energy Corp.)

Ocean overfishing has turned attention toward the potential of fish farms. But aquaculture has its own problem – creating a sustainable food supply. Most pelletized fish food currently gets its protein from…fish, caught out of the ocean.

“Overfishing of the oceans is one of the most pressing environmental problems in the world,” Ernst said.

River Road is working on a process using food waste fed to black soldier flies, which become the protein of pelletized feed. The company announced this month that it had received a patent for its process of converting food waste into food for the flies.

Thus, bug colonies become sustainable food for farm-raised fish, which become sustainable food for humans, Ernst said.

The recently granted patent will apply to the eventual factory, not the pilot facility. For now, the idea is to create small batches and get them in the hands of end-users, who will hopefully become customers that support a significant ramp-up in River Road’s operation.

Industry experts say it's a compelling proposition that could gain widespread attention. Aquarium of Niagara Executive Director Gary Siddall, who plans to be an early adopter of River Road's pelletized fish food, said it is a chance for the aquarium to practice the sustainability mission it preaches.

Siddall said he expects that mission to resonate outward toward aquaculture operations that are built with sustainability in mind.

“In these markets where they are performing aquaculture, and growing out these populations of fish, the fact that (the fish) can be fed sustainable food really minimizes the impact on the environment," he said. "Anytime you take advantage of already existing biological processes, and you stay away from things that are synthesized or artificial, it's a victory for us."

This article originally appeared in Buffalo Business First.