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PILI : biosourced pigments

Guillaume Boissonnat, Chief Scientific Officer, tells us about PILI, an innovative biotech startup founded in 2015 whose mission is to develop and produce renewable dyes and pigments for industry.

The idea to create these dyes was born at La Paillasse community lab, created by Thomas Landrain, former CEO of PILI and Marie-Sarah Adenis, current creative director. At first, the goal was to make a pen in which bacteria would produce colored ink and which would be fed with sugar. From a technical point of view, the project turned out to be too complex. However, the question of the ecological impact of pigments led to the creation of PILI.


The key element? Multidisciplinarity

As Scientific Director, Guillaume Boissonnat's missions are very varied. They cover scientific activities such as biology, process engineering, organic chemistry or toxicology, but also financial or commercial activities. His skills acquired at the Ecole Polytechnique and through internships in industry, particularly in pharmaceuticals, have enabled him to become very versatile. X also allowed him to develop a network, which proved to be very useful.
According to him, a good entrepreneur must be curious, self-confident, adventurous, organized and not afraid. The mindset is also very important.

"A startup is about people getting together to do things they don't know how to do." Guillaume Boissonnat, CSO of Pili

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The recipe? Water, sugar and vegetable matter

Nowadays, the synthesis of pigments and dyes is made from petroleum-based raw materials that generate a lot of CO2 and waste. PILI's mission is to change this mode of production thanks to the fermentation of microorganisms, capable of producing molecules very close to those created by petroleum. Instead of making organic synthesis with fossil materials, the microorganism ferments in water, at room temperature and consumes only sugar or vegetable materials.  Thanks to this process, biobased pigments are five to ten times less polluting than conventional pigments.

PILI targets the industrial sectors that consume the most pigments and dyes, and therefore emit the most CO2 and are the most polluting. Textiles, paints, inks and plastics make up the vast majority of color volumes consumed worldwide. The cosmetics and food industries do not represent very strategic markets from the point of view of reducing the environmental footprint of these products.

Since the first production of chemical dyes took place in 1856, entering an already established market is not always easy and PILI quickly realized this. The company has encountered certain barriers, whether technical, commercial or in relation to the market's perception of their product, but has always overcome them.

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The beginnings of industrialization

In addition to producing ecological pigments, PILI has chosen French or European factories to use local plant raw materials. Factories based in Asia sometimes do not respect environmental safety standards and can, for some years, be closed overnight by governments in order to comply with standards. It is therefore becoming strategic for manufacturers to secure their supply chain with suppliers closer to home, in Europe or in France.

PILI raised €4 million in April 2021 to launch the industrial scale-up of the first products, a textile product and a paint pigment, with the aim of marketing them in 2022. The aim of this industrialization is also to prove that PILI's pigments and dyes behave like petroleum-based pigments, and that they therefore have the same performance while being less polluting. In addition to testing the first products with customers, the company's objective is to continue developing its ranges for paints, inks and textiles. Indeed, it is necessary to offer a wide variety of tints to customers.