June 11, 2010
By DIANE REISCHEL
Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
Robert Olivier ('03) recently demonstrated his composter to one of Prof. Bonnie Jacobs’ ecology classes, complete with food scraps and grubs, while explaining the ecological principals behind his invention. The BioPod Plus has made Olivier the darling of the backyard chicken set , who use the composter to tidily dispose of table scraps and other organic refuse while simultaneously producing a soil amendment and feed for the chickens.
It's hard to imagine this natty Euro import traipsing unkempt in the jungle. On his solo stint with Outward Bound, Robert Olivier had only a rain tarp, iodine, no extra clothes – and way too much time to think. But that's how his epiphany came: By a river, at 19, in Peru.
"I knew if I was going to make a difference in our ecosystem, I have to make it in the United States – especially in Texas," recalls the native Belgian. In that moment, he chose a strategy: Make earth-friendly living an enticement. Don't make it hurt.
Here he sits 12 years later, a neatly groomed entrepreneur of 31, beaming over a fistful of grubs, maggoty stars of a composting system he designed with his dad for consumers who want to help the earth without getting too earthy.
"What goes on in a forest floor, we put in a box," says Olivier, with the hint of a Flemish clip. "It's a whole-life-cycle approach."
Armed with a time-lapse video best kept from the queasy, Olivier recently showcased the grubs' speed-eating talents at a backyard gathering near White Rock Lake. He enlists these common critters – larvae of black soldier flies – as jump-starters in a portable composter called BioPod Plus. (Also see a video. )
"Once they set in, they rule," he says. "They're voracious eaters. Ninety percent of what you put in there gets eaten in 48 hours."
You don't have to watch: The grubs nosh in private in a box that looks more like a picnic hamper than a science lesson in progress. After several weeks, they climb a ramp expecting to exit, then fall like tokens from a game of Chutes and Ladders into a built-in basket.
"You don't even have to touch it. Just dump it," Olivier says solicitously. He's quick to add that black soldier flies are not related to blowflies or houseflies, they don't bite and they pose no danger to ornamental plants. . .
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