Chitin is a high-quality raw material, with useful applications in animal nutrition, chemistry, agro-industry and cosmetics. Even though the majority of chitin comes from larvae, it can also be sourced from non-animal resources such as fungi, which is important for some industries like the cosmetics sector.

Advantages of chitin

  • Natural and local product abundant in nature
  • Natural alternative to bio-pesticides
  • Bio-active molecules
  • Positive health impact for people and animals
  • Tailored to fit the application
  • Re-use of other highly divergent organic by-products

Why use insects as a source of chitin?

Insects can play a key role in the transition to a biobased economy. They are known as a source of protein and as a biomass they offer several advantages, including:

  • showing fast growth
  • needing much less space and water than other animals
  • consuming a wide range of by-products, increasing their sustainability
  • more efficient conversion of feed into biomass than other animals


Insect larvae consist of fats, proteins and chitin: three (from a human perspective) useful substances which, before they can be used, first need to be separated and cleaned up – or ‘fractionated’. By fractioning the insect larvae, VITO creates a more interesting alternative fat and protein ingredient as well as high value chitin.

Pilot-scale production of high-value chitin derivates as a stepping stone to industrial production

In recent years, we have built up considerable expertise in growing and processing insects together with KU Leuven - Campus Geel, Thomas More Kempen. This expertise has led to the construction of a research and pilot infrastructure for breeding, harvesting and processing insects. Here we can support companies interested in the valorisation of by-products through larvae growth.

The VITO pilot enables:

  • Production of large amounts in order to develop proof of concept
  • A large range of customisation. For example, by modifying the by-products fed to the larvae, changing the source of the chitin, or altering the bio-refinery, the bioactive properties of the chitin are tailored to specific applications
  • To extract and purify chitin from different sources.
  • To tailor the chitin molecules by conversion into different chitosan (oligos)
  • Production of larger chitin/chitosan amounts to use in application trials

The VITO pilot consists of various technical equipment that can be connected in a plug-and-play mode as required. Resulting in flexible research infrastructure that provides an answer to the questions of companies and researchers.

Let’s create a sustainable future together

Valorise your side streams through insect larvae by making full use of its high value chitin.

Are you looking for flexible research infrastructure that can help you with that? 

The circular and biobased economy in practice

VITO helps governments and companies to make the transition to circular thinking and develops circular business models. We also support innovation that transforms waste streams into raw materials and basic materials for new or existing products.