Almost every colours used industrially are produced using fossil-based chemistry. One of the most colour-consuming industry remains textile manufacturing, which uses 1 million tons of dyes every year, this industry happens to be the second most polluting industry in the world!
How much is your technology better for the environnement?
PILI dyes are less polluting than classical petrochemical dyes mostly because their production process is much cleaner. Each kilogram of regular dye necessitates the use of 100 kg of heavy oil, 10 kg of toxic chemicals and 1000 L of water as well as energy to heat the mixtures up to 300 °C. Our microorganisms produce the same amount of dye using no petrol, no chemicals, and grow in 5 times less water at room temperature. We have calculated that the energy savings of replacing the 1 MTons of petro-dyes by ours amounts to the CO2 generated annually by one million vehicles. We are currently conducting a Life Cycle Analysis with a partner and will publish more precise results as soon as they’re out.
How much is it better for my health?
Our dyes are PCA free (no carcinogen)
Why do you say it is renewable?
Our dyes are renewable, since we use renewable carbon sources and raw materials to grow our microorganisms and make them produce colours. Our first strains use sugar as a raw material, and we are conducting research to allow our microbes to use agricultural wastes as a raw material. We want to be part of this future with the lowest impact on the environnement you can imagine.
Are these natural dyes?
Our dyes are exactly the same bacteria produces naturally. But we enhance these processes (making it more powerfull, less energy consuming…) with the tools of synthetic biology. It’s a collaboration between what nature provides and what humans can do to make it even better. We can also modify those natural dyes using green chemistry method in order to access more colours and better properties that the industry is asking for. Hopefully, those modifications happen at the very end of the dye production and do virtually not change the environmental benefit of our products!
Are your bacteria dangerous?
Not at all! They are just like the ones you have in your body, helping you digest, protect, regulate. Of course most of the time you have been told about bacteria being dangerous but you need to know that most of them are harmless and even vital to our lives for the one who lives within our body!
Why do bacteria produce these dyes ?
We have little informations on the utility of bacterial dyes. Some are used by the bacteria for their biologic activity, other can be a mean of storing carbon and energy, while some other are probably just the result of random mutations of their genomes.
Is there bacteria in the final product?
There is no more bacteria in the final product (they stay in the bioreactor, we only extract the dyes that we will then purify).
Is it okay to make bacteria work for us?
They work hard at PILI, 24h a day, no holidays… well, just as in your belly, your skin, they work for you 24/7 too!
Bacteria wants to be fed, to be at the right temperature so they can reproduce. They’re happy like that, they do not try to carry new projects or travel the world. We should accept that the microscopic lifestyle is not ours.
You created a Union Force for bacteria, is this for a joke?
Some people raised concerns about bacteria lives in the fermentors. We thought about creating a « Bacteria Lives Matter » and finally decided to create a « Bacteria Union Force » so that any microscopic worker can make reclamations. We will keep this as a serious joke and ask people to register their own microbiote so that their bacteria can make any request too. You could here them say « no more burgers » if they don’t feel like helping digesting it in your belly!
Do your bacteria have a french accent as they live in the south of France?
We are conducting an inquiry on that point and will keep you updated.
When will we find your dyes on the market ?
Biology is very powerful but it takes time. We hope to have some products on the market by 2020. We will have some products available soon anyway because we can’t wait either!
What are the main problems you need to solve?
We are both working on enlarging the color palette and on the scale-up of the process. It’s mainly a matter of time and money. Hopefully, we make progresses very quickly!
Will it be more expensive than the actual dyes?
No. Our technology is completely new for color making but it relies on the same processes we use for biofuel production. These are very well known and the factories already exist. So when we simulate our technology on large scales, we come out with prices in the same range with petrochemical dyes.
Why nobody tried to create this technology before you?
Petrochemical dyes are so performant and so cheap that no one could imagine a better color technology. Vegetal dyes were not possible to industrialize, quite expensive and it was not very performant. It’s only very recently that pollution problems started to raise awarness on petrochemistry. The issue concerning dye pollution came very late as we first turned our eyes to the visible pollution (plastic, air…)
It's only quite recently that people realized that some industries, especially the textile, was polluting and sometimes awfull to workers (i.e. Rana Plaza catastrophy who was a real shaker to producers and consumers). On the other side, the technology got mature the last decade with the development of the biofuels which had slipped towards specialty chemistry.
Are you pursuing other applications such as ink cartridges, cosmetics or food colorants?
Textile is where the highest volumes of dyes are used and it’s the second most polluting industry so we decided to focus on it. But we are also collaborating on other applications as mentionned above!
Does PILI means anything?
Pili are the appendices that some bacteria have on their body. They use it to contact other bacteria to communicate. Their langage is the langage of DNA, so they exchange fragments of DNA so that they have new capabilities. We named our society PILI because we liked this idea that we would be able to bring new know-how from microorganism to macro organism (we, humans!)
How and when did you come up with the idea?
Everything started in early 2012 on a conversation between a biologist, Thomas Landrain, and a designer, Marie-Sarah Adenis. They realised how polluting the inks were and decided to create a semi-living pen that would be autonomous in the dye production. This pen would be filled with dye producing bacteria, so you would only need to feed the pen in order to obtain ink, in an infinite manner. That was just kind of a fiction but it was made on purpose to picture this incredibly new powerfull way of producing colors. And so the project began!
Are you still giving workshops for adults and children?
No we’re not. It’s very time consuming and we are 100% focusing on developping the technology to make it available as soon as possible. Workshops were a great part of this adventure, raising awarness on the magic of fermentation and restore the bad reputation of microbes. Now we’re tackling the industrial issue which is much more complex and challenging. But we will be back on track for educational purpose because we love it and this is clearly part of the answer to the environnemental awarness.
How did this educational, artistic project got to the entrepreunarial level?
When we realized this technology could be a real alternative to petrochemsitry, we needed a real scientific and business strategy. That’s when we met Jérémie Blache, our CEO, and Guillaume Boissonnat, our scientific director. PILI was founded in 2015. The project then began to be a real game changer for dye production!