Futuristic vision in this warehouse in the Carré d’Ivry business area. An inflatable bubble, ovoid, lit with purple light, houses several rows of plants that grow in aeroponics (above ground). Temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, water and nutrient supply, not a parameter escapes the machines embedded in this crystalline textile membrane made of ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene). Interstellar Lab promises 98% reduction in water consumption, energy and record yields. It is with this controlled growth chamber, called BioPod, that the start-up is entering the promising market of urban farms, estimated at 174 million dollars by 2025. It already boasts nearly 200 customers, including L ‘Oréal and major companies in the pharmaceutical, cosmetics, perfumery and food industries.
“We offer solutions to these players who are sometimes subject to difficulties in supplying certain products from their suppliers. They have import constraints with prices that can be very volatile. They can thus obtain locally grown products that meet demanding specifications for research, development or production.”summarizes Barbara Belvisi, founder of Interstellar.
Vetiver, geranium, periwinkle, passion fruit, patchouli…
In the growing containers, Jim Rhode, product design manager, presents some plants and their applications. “Growing in aeroponics makes it easier for us with species whose root only is valued. This is the case with vetivers in perfumery. We also grow geranium and patchouli. Here you have passion fruit. We are also working on the resistance of certain species to climate change, so we are experimenting with vine growth. For pharmaceuticals, we grow periwinkles from Madagascar to extract vincristine, an alkaloid used as an anti-cancer. We have managed to grow fruit on physalis and prickly pears. Eventually, we want to introduce bumblebees to pollinate plants. It is very difficult to patent raw materials, on the other hand, what we can protect are the recipes, that is to say all the characteristics necessary for the growth of a species in the biopods”.
Officially launched in 2020, the company, launched at Station F and based in Ivry-sur-Seine since July 2021, received its first Biopod a few months ago. She is now looking for 2000 square meters. Interstallar Lab wants to both sell the Biopods (250,000 euros for purchase) and develop a plant factory based on 40 controlled-environment growth chambers (phytotrons) to enrich the catalog of recipes and optimize the production process. production within the Biopods.
NASA fundraising and call for projects
The company has already planned to raise funds from outside investors to continue its growth, it hopes for 15 million euros. Now made up of around thirty people, the team would like to quickly double its workforce. The Ivry startup is also in the running for the Deep Space Food Challenge thanks to its Nucleus project. This NASA call for projects, in coordination with the Canadian space agency, rewards innovation that will allow astronauts to feed themselves properly during long missions in space. The key: a prize of one million dollars!
Atmosphere Alone on Mars?
“After six months, freeze-dried food breaks down and loses its nutrients. We have imagined this system of connected cubes which makes it possible to complete the meals of a team of four astronauts. They will be able to grow “micro-greens”, small vegetables such as corn on the cob, peas but also mushrooms. For protein, we use the black soldier fly whose larvae can be cooked, fried or eaten raw. Everything is designed to operate independently and be placed in a spaceship. Maintenance and harvesting will require astronauts one to two hours per week,” explains the head of the agronomy department of Instellar Lab.
For Barbara Belvisi, this participation is also symbolic because without NASA, she probably would not have created her company. “After growing up in Champigny-sur-Marne, I was educated at the Marcelin-Berthelot high school in Saint-Maur-des-Fossés. Then I went to EM Lyon, a business school, and started working in the finance sector, in investment funds on listed markets in corporate finance. Then, I managed my own financing company in deep-tech (disruptive innovations) and hardware (computer equipment). I had this idea of greenhouses running through my head but without the training. It was at the Space Portal in California, a NASA laboratory, that I trained in aerospace engineering to understand controlled environments, design a station where we control water, air, temperature, humidity. I was able to meet the engineers who worked on the international space station”summarizes the founder.
This Wednesday, the Minister Delegate for the Digital Transition and Telecommunications, Jean-Noël Barrot, came to visit Interstellar Lab, also in the presence of Philippe Bouyssou, Mayor of Ivry-sur-Seine, Germain Roesch, Vice-President of the departmental council, and the prefect, Sophie Thibault.
A perfect illustration of the excellence of French innovation, the BioPod from@InterstellarLA allows you to grow plants in full autonomy. It will equip the next space expeditions of the @NASA. Congratulations to @b_belvisi and his whole team! pic.twitter.com/FQptiExls2— Jean-Noel Barrot (@jnbarrot) February 1, 2023
📍 In Ivry-sur-Seine, the Minister @jnbarrot went to meet the French start-up 🇫🇷 @InterstellarLAalongside Sophie Thibault, @ prefect94 and in the presence of @pbouyssouivrymayor of the municipality– Prefect of Val-de-Marne (@Prefet94) February 1, 2023
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Ivry-sur-Seine: with her space farms, Barbara Belvisi is preparing the agriculture of the future | Citizens.com