Almost every colours used industrially are produced using fossil-based chemistry. One of the most colour-consuming industry remains textile manufacturing, which uses 2 million tons of dyes every year.
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.
How much is it better for my health?
Our dyes do not contain PCA (para-chloro-aniline) which are the main suspects in health issues related to textile dyes.
Like all chemical molecules, petroleum-based as well as natural, it is the dose that makes the poison. This is why European regulations such as REACH regulate the use of products in a more or less restrictive manner depending on their uses. PILI products comply with these regulations and pose no health risk for the uses for which they are intended.
Eating a textile dye, no matter how it is produced, is not necessarily dangerous but will never be a good idea, this is why a specific list exists for food colors in the regulations for instance.
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 colors are produced by a fermentation process similar to that of beer. But we do not stick to the molecules produced naturally by bacteria because they do not perform well and are very limited in terms of colors. We start from what they know how to do and we improve these processes by giving them new know-how thanks to the advanced tools of synthetic biology. Thus, from this collaboration between humans and bacteria emerges a powerful process, less energy consuming, and with a very wide range of colors!
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 or protect from sunligh, while some other are probably just an evolutionnary artefact.
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.
Do your bacteria have a french accent as they live in the south of France?
We cannot yet answer with certainty but it would seem that yes! We are investigating and will keep you posted.
When will we find your dyes on the market ?
Biology is very powerful but it takes more time for other technologies such as computers for example to put a product on the market. We plan to have the first products on the market in the next two to three years, but cannot be sure.
What are the main problems you need to solve?
Our two main areas of work are the reduction of production cost and the scaling up of the process. It is therefore above all a question of time.
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 or pharmaceutical productions. 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 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 potential applications.
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 designer, Marie-Sarah Adenis and a biologist, Thomas Landrain. 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 because it takes a long time and we are fully dedicated to developing our technology to make it available as quickly as possible. The workshops played a big role in this adventure, raising awareness of new production methods with biology and twisting the neck on the bad reputation of microbes. Now we are tackling the industrial question, which is much more complex and difficult. But we do not lose sight of the question of the imaginary because it is clearly part of the response to environmental problems which requires the alliance of technological responses and changes in our behavior and our consumption patterns.
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 and over than 30 people have joined the adventure in 2023!