It is in a squat transformed into a community laboratory that young chemistry enthusiasts decide to create the Pili company, to offer a sustainable alternative to polluting dyes from the textile industry.
After two successful fundraising rounds, they are targeting a market of $ 8 billion today.
The adventure begins around a “semi-living” pen, the ink of which is supplied by bacteria which break down sugar, concocted in an abandoned SNCF hangar.
Originally this playful project, two doctors in synthetic biology and organic chemistry, Thomas Landrain and Guillaume Boissonnat, and a designer, Marie-Sarah Adenis, who quickly perceive the ecological and industrial potential of their discovery.
They team up with Jérémie Blache, a graduate of Toulouse Business School, to give life to their ambition: to make the textile industry less polluting.
In 2015, their start-up was born. It is named “Pili”, in homage to the appendages that certain bacteria, mobilized in the manufacture of this new dye, use to communicate between them.
Bacteria to the rescue of the environment
Pili reproduces the process used naturally by certain bacteria, from the soil or fungi, to produce color.
The idea of young entrepreneurs was to improve this process thanks to the tools of synthetic biology, such as enzymatic synthesis, which makes it possible to manufacture chemical molecules by bacteria or yeasts, and which is already practiced in several fields, such as biofuels, the pharmaceutical industry or cosmetics.
Placed in large fermentation tanks at room temperature, the microorganisms break down renewable plant materials, such as sugar and wood, and transform them into dyes.
The pigments are then separated from the bacteria and assembled to obtain the desired range of colors.
Thanks to the passion of these micro-organisms, which reproduce every twenty minutes, and to the efficiency of its process, Pili ensures that it can constitute a chromatic range of tens or even hundreds of colors for a manufacturing cost equivalent to that chemical dyes, and for colors as resistant as those from petrochemicals.
Above all, the environmental impact is incommensurate with current processes, as assured to “Echoes” Jérémie Blache, current director of Pili: “The production of 1 kg of dye of petrochemical origin requires about 100 kg of oil residues , 10 kg of strong acids and 1,000 liters of water. Our fermentation technology allows us to produce this same kilogram with 200 liters of water, without petroleum or chemicals. ”
A rapidly expanding start-up
Investors, public and private alike, were not mistaken: this process undoubtedly represents the future of the textile industry, which is under pressure from consumers who are ever more eager for environmentally friendly products. The success is all the greater since their main competitors mainly use vegetable dyes with more limited color ranges and much lower yields.
Since its creation in 2015, Pili has benefited from 80,000 euros from the American investment fund SOSV.
This company participates in the fundraising of the start-up in 2018 (2.5 million euros) and 2019 (3.6 million euros) alongside the BPI, the Fashion for Good incubator in which notably participate the C&A group and Kering, the Wiseed crowdfunding platform and the French fund Elaia, specializing in breakthrough innovations.
The Pili team wishes to launch in 2021 a vast series of tests, in order to be able to start the industrialization of its process by 2022 and to deeply transform the textile sector, one of the most polluting in the world.
Published on planete.lesechos.fr