The Glowee system can produce light without any electricity as it only uses specific bacteria. Meet the head of this Parisian based start-up: Sandra Rey.
When was Glowee born?
I initially trained as a designer. The project sprouted back in 2013 when my friends and I had to find an idea for a student competition about synthetic biology. We saw a wildlife documentary on TV showing deep sea animals who are able to produce their own light via bioluminescence. For us, this biological light was a great solution and had to be exploited because it could answer the economic and ecological problems linked to public lighting. In 2014, after a Master’s Degree in Business, I decided to take another look at my student project. That’s when I started to work in a lab with a biotechnology trainee trying to create bioluminescence.
Since the beginning, your start-up has been working on different ways of using this form of light, can you tell us more?
Yes, we initially imagined a bioluminescence based concept of lights for shop windows. There has been a lot of debates about banning shop windows and building lights at night. The truth is radical solutions never really managed to bring down energy consumption and luminous pollution, so it was more interesting to look at alternative solutions which would allow cities to keep their visibility and nightlife. This solution had to be environment-friendly.
Your innovation is based on a genetic engineering of bacteria blended with nutrients. The substance is then locked in an organic resin shell. How does it work?
As a matter of fact, we can use several technologies. Our main activity is to produce raw material. This material can be produced under various forms (ice, liquid, etc.) but it has to be encapsulated into the same hermetic and transparent shell.
Can you speak about these different technologies? What happens when bacteria stop producing light?
Our first material is 100 % autonomous, but its life cycle is also ephemeral (72 hours in a row). This solution is perfect for replacing exterior signage during festivals for example. It could also work as a replacement for Christmas lighting. As it will be created for a single use, there is no special service to care about. We are also developing some systems which are more lasting (several days of lighting) which will need a continuous service. Glowee covers the supplies when nutrients are starting to lower and waste management.
When will we be able to watch the first Glowee city sets?
This year sets will be visible on a few special events. Our purpose is to sensitize the public to our concept. Our solution might still seem strange to start with but we hope it will become obvious for everybody when the technique will be successfully integrated to the urban landscape. The initial phase is going to take some time but we are developing a large-scale prototype in order to optimize the system and make it viable which should be available end of the year. We are also working in collaboration with some companies – mainly from the energy sector – in order to let them develop new specific services for biological light. We’ll have to wait 3 to 4 years before having a large-scale industrial product.
Are there any other possible uses?
Our main objective is to replace urban electrical lighting. In the energy world, the best way is to use several sources and each source must have a specific use. We can easily imagine that our system will fit different purposes. Why not imagine illuminating all dark areas in cities? Rural places which lack electricity for example.
Have you planned to develop new Glowee products in the future?
Eventually we would like to offer an exhaustive energy service which would clean-up both air and water whilst producing light. As we work with very versatile micro-organisms we will combine their most interesting functions in order to adapt to different ecological purposes.
GLOWEE: AN INTERESTING POTENTIAL FOR ACCORHOTELS
Since the start of the COP21 in 2015, Glowee has stood out among the « green tech » industry. Accor Hotels Group had heard about the start-up, but it was through the intermediary of Energy Observer that both businesses finally met. They immediately saw in Glowee an important potential in its design and in its environmental impact. « For our design director, the concept of Glowee has the capacity of revolutionizing the lighting experience in our hotels. For my part, I have mainly perceived the ecological interest of a totally carbon-free lighting solution. It’s the promise of a virtuous energy. »
Glowee is currently working on a long-term solution which could be used in hotels. This solution relies on a network of transparent tubes in which flows the famous liquid. A totally luminous system which opens new perspectives for hotels. « The first concerns the outdoor lighting: store fronts, sign posts or even building lighting. The other will be internal, with for example the creation of resting or immersive rooms. There are plenty of possibilities », explains Arnaud Hermann.
Whilst waiting for the demonstrator to teste the continuous bio light system, Accor Hotels Group could soon use Glowee’s already existent ephemeral solution. The group is simply waiting for the right time to organise the event.
Interview by Arnaud Wyart pour Energy Observer.