Today, 99% of colouring agents are petrochemical. They are made from toxic solvents, their production consumes a lot of energy, they pollute the environment and they complicate the recycling of the materials they are used to dye, in particular textiles.
At the end of 2014, the start-up PILI was created in the La Paillasse laboratory in Paris (France) to develop a fully biosourced ink made of colouring molecules produced by biosynthesis. This ink does not use any toxic substances and allows for the optimised recycling of the coloured products.
This ink is produced using the conventional fermentation processes used to make beer or cheese. Indeed, the fermentation process allows the micro-organisms to break down renewable plant-based materials, such as sugar or wood, and then to rebuild them as colouring agents. PILI selects the micro-organisms according to their capacity to produce colouring molecules (1). They are grown in tanks and feed on a biomass that they degrade in order to produce the molecules capable of making the pigments (2). The aqueous liquid resulting from this process is then treated and conditioned to make a powder or a paste that forms the base of the ink and of other formulas, in particular for textile dyes (3).
Red, yellow, blue: PILI is currently developing its first range of colouring agents in the laboratory, before producing them on an industrial scale. Now working in the TWB (Toulouse White Biotechnology) demonstrator in collaboration with the biotech ecosystem present on the spot, the start-up is bringing together the performance of chemicals industry and biotechnological innovation to create an alternative to oil derivatives.
This article was published in the sixth issue of open_resource magazine: “Towards a bio-inspired future”