French excellence – Textile industry: a French start-up invents organic colors

Thanks to innovative coloring techniques, the start-up founded by a trio of French entrepreneurs will revolutionize textiles.

It is a society that should become a gold mine. Pili company’s ambition is to suddenly expire all dyes. And on the way to revolutionize the textile industry. As ? Inventing colors produced by bacteria. Marie-Sarah Adenis, designer and biologist by training, one of the co-founders, explains: “It’s simple, we teach bacteria to make colored molecules thanks to their enzymes”.

Since Covid promoted us to “scientific experts”, we know that enzymes are catalysts for chemical reactions. The biologist develops: “Enzymes are like workers working on an assembly line: each has its own mission, for example, adding or removing a group of atoms. From its coordinated reactions, a new molecule emerges that will have the desired color qualities and physicochemical properties for the dyeing of various textile fibers. In short: through its molecular manipulations, Pili manufactures organic pigments. So far, most dyes come from the petrochemical industry, are poorly biodegradable, pollute and poison the workers who handle them in offshore factories.

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We measure the phenomenal progress induced by this trio of entrepreneurs who manage about thirty scientists; in addition to Marie-Sarah Adenis, Pili’s other partners are French: Guillaume Boissonnat, scientific director, doctor in organic chemistry, and Jérémie Blache, president, of the Toulouse Business School, which seeks funds and structures the company. Considering the potential of the business, the investments will be colossal. We suspect fabric makers are tapping their feet with impatience. “We have already achieved a perfect indigo, rejoices Marie-Sarah Adenis. We make our first ton. We set up industrial production.”

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A stain that doesn’t use petroleum or harsh chemicals and doesn’t cost extra

Only that. We can buy jeans with a clear conscience. Blue denim, she has produced by these little animals working in her cell culture box, or rather in large vats as for the production of beer. From Mediterranean blue to the sweetest forget-me-not, pili-pili red or saffron yellow, you condition your bacteria and that’s it! Well, it’s not that simple. Often, the bacterium varies, and does not obey the enzymes. Marie-Sarah Adenis: “He’s alive, so it’s not easy to get what you want quickly; It needs patience.” It took a few years of trying.

The result is a dye that does not use petroleum or corrosive chemicals and whose production emits ten times less CO2. And it doesn’t cost more. “When we produce on an industrial scale, it will be the same price as petrochemical dyes”, explains Marie-Sarah Adenis. Otherwise, we don’t develop: for a product to be green, it must be affordable. We wonder why we didn’t think of this sooner. Nobody relied on the infinitely small to produce color. “These microorganisms are full of resources,” she smiles. She does, however, speak of a “small-scale” work. With their associates, they are laying the groundwork for a factory in the Lyon region, which will be operational “in a few years”.

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Passionate about their work, the three champions are not “all natural” ayatollahs. “Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it doesn’t pollute. Vegetable dyes pollute as much as petrochemicals. And they occupy the space of subsistence agriculture. Listening to them, it is thought that bacterial engineering should be taught in elementary school.

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