Paris based Pili Inc. produces biobased indigo for textile industry

Pili Inc.: Biofabricator of living colors (made in microbes)

Today, 99% of colors are produced with fossil resources. Pili Inc. uses hybrid processes combining industrial fermentation and green chemistry to generate high-performance color ranges. The company’s mission is to produce sustainable dyes and pigments to reduce the environmental footprint of the color. industry. They target the most polluting applications: textiles, inks, polymers, paints & coatings.

Pili Inc. is scaling the production of biobased indigo for textile industry. They also produce biobased pigments for the ink, paints & coatings and plastics industries.

PILI relies on powerfull ‘cell factories’ producing vibrant colors. Their technology is based on microbial enzymes, re-engineered to produce brilliant and effective dyes from renewable resources.

Enzymes are powerful molecules, found in every living cell. These proteins catalyze the chemical reactions needed to sustain life and to create the huge variety of molecules found in nature, everything from food to perfume to pigments.

Enzymatic synthesis allows to employ microbes to create materials in sustainable ways, saving energy and reducing waste. Enzymes can do chemistry with remarkable precision, and without large inputs of energy or toxic reagents.

PILI is developing a completely new dye technology, designing enzymatic cascades that turn renewable carbon feedstocks, such as sugar, into textile dyes. Using the specificity and efficiency of enzymes, they can produce dyes for a wide variety of color hues and applications.

Building effective and clean biofactories

Once an effective enzyme cascade is designed, large-scale production can begin. Dyes are produced by integrating the genes for each enzyme into bacteria or other microorganisms, termed ‘cell factories’ or ‘biofactories’.

These bacteria are grown in water-based bioreactors, using sugar as their main food source. This process requires no fossil fuels and no toxic inputs, and produces no harmful byproducts, making the bacterial biofactories both highly efficient and non-polluting.

Bacteria are grown with renewable nutrients

The biological process employed is not only efficient and sustainable, it is also scalable.

Microorganisms replicate the tools very efficiently as they reproduce. And they reproduce very fast : nearly every 20 minutes! At the end of a day, we have billions of microorganisms, each of them producing pigments.

New ideas are always brewing at Pili

The entire process is a little like making beer.

“We use fermentation tanks and carefully tend the growth of our microbes but instead of creating a tasty beverage, we “brew” renewable, sustainable color,” says PILI in a message on their website.

Large-scale fermentation techniques have been used in the biopharmaceutical industry for decades, where microbes are used to produce insulin and other valuable medications. Using similar process design, PILI’s technology can be scaled up for high production, lowering costs without sacrificing quality.

At the end of the fermentation process, the final pigments are separated by simple filtration. Because pigment molecules are so small relative to the size of bacteria, this is a straightforward process that yields a pure final product.

A Rainbow of Possibility

Pili is currently focused on textile applications. Their goal is to radically change the textile industry, reducing its reliance on synthetic dyes as well as the huge amount of water pollution produced by dyeing facilities.

PILI’s products are compatible with current dye infrastructure and processes, and offer a revolutionary step forward in the pursuit of truly sustainable fashion. The company is currently developing the initial product line and refining the process to work at industrial scale.

Pili is well on its way to becoming the world leader in bio-based dyes by multiplying industrial partnerships with application specialists in the textiles, inks, paints and plastics sectors.

Pili, a leader in the development of renewable colors, was awarded a grant of more than €400,000 for its Waste2BioComp project within the Horizon Europe program. This collaborative project bringing together 12 European partners (France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain) aims to transform organic waste into sustainable and biosourced components for the textile, packaging and footwear industries.

Demonstrating the relevance of these processes on a pilot scale will pave the way for large-scale industrialization with a significant impact on reducing the use of fossil materials and CO2 emissions in many value chains with high environmental footprints such as packaging or clothing.

Pascal Simonney

Pascal Simonney, Chief Financial Officer of Pili declares : “This European project obtained on such a demanding program such as Horizon Europe demonstrates the relevance and the momentum for an industrial scale-up of our first pigment. It confirms the effectiveness of a dynamic and multidisciplinary team well supported by a network of recognized experts in biotechnology and industrial chemistry. This is a key milestone for the incredible industrial ramp-up that is shaping up in bio-based inks and textile dyes.”

Pili is strengthening its ecosystem of application partners, particularly in inks and textile printing. Recent tests carried out under semi-industrial conditions in the denim industry have demonstrated that the performance of the first Pili product is identical to that of conventional petro-based products. In order to increase its production and product development capabilities on an industrial scale, Pili is launching the construction of a pilot unit in the south of France this summer and is preparing the construction of a demonstration unit planned for next year. This investment will allow the establishment of a production tool generating the first million euros of turnover for the company.

Marie-Sarah Adenis, designer and biologist and one of the co-founders, explains:

“It’s simple, we teach bacteria to make colored molecules thanks to their enzymes. We know that enzymes are catalysts for chemical reactions. Enzymes are like workers working on an assembly line: each has its own mission, for example adding or removing a group of atoms. From their coordinated reactions emerges a new molecule which will possess the qualities of color and the physico-chemical properties desired to dye various textile fibres. In short: through its molecular manipulations, Pili manufactures organic pigments.”

Since its inception, Pili’s mission has been to decarbonize the color industry. By recovering local renewable resources (non-food biomass present on French territory – straw, oils, molasses, biomass from industrial waste), these processes will make it possible to significantly reduce CO2 emissions from industry on a planetary scale as well as the use of fossil materials (oil, coal). They will also make it possible to reduce the strong dependence of many industrial sectors on imports outside the UE while creating qualified jobs in the territory. In 2023, Pili will enter the marketing and industrialization phase for its first textile coloring product : indigo.

About Pili

Pili is the leader in the development of biobased dyes and pigments. Its unique processes combining fermentation and sustainable chemistry allow the production of colors that are both efficient and ecological.

Its technology has the potential to free itself from polluting petroleum and chemicals involved in the production of colors in the textile, plastics, paints and inks sectors.

Founded in 2015, Pili is based at Toulouse White Biotechnology (TWB) and the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM) in Paris. Now employing thirty people, the company has invested more than 13 million euros since its creation thanks to public and private financiers such as BPI France, SOSV, Elaia as well as many individual investors.

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