French-American biotech startup Interstellar Lab has begun deploying its biofarming platform, BioPod, which fuses cutting-edge hardware with AI-enabled control and science to create ‘high-precision botanicals’ for use by the Cosmetics, Pharmaceuticals and Food industries.
The startup is backed by L'Oréal’s Green Sciences Incubator, which aims to support companies that are working towards finding new solutions for the environmental challenges the planet is facing.
“A terrestrial adaptation of a system originally developed for NASA”
The AI-controlled biofarm speeds up production cycles and increases production of bioactive compounds in plants. The innovation delivers a sustainable cultivation tool that anticipates the challenges of sourcing plants and the environmental impact of producing natural ingredients.
BioPod is an autonomous controlled-environment greenhouse of 55m2. An 11m-long, 5m-wide and 6m-high deployable greenhouse that can be installed without a foundation and offers up to 100m2 of highly controlled growing space.”
According to Interstellar Lab’s CEO Barbara Belvisi, the autonomous cocoon is “a terrestrial adaptation of a system originally developed for NASA, operates in a semi-closed circuit, optimising the water cycle and capturing ambient CO2.”
She explained that the BioPod has a transparent membrane that captures sunlight and reduces the energy consumption of artificial light. It’s equipped with sensors and its own artificial intelligence and recreates climates autonomously, enabling the production of high-value-added plants and natural ingredients in a sustainable and replicable way.
“Thanks to cutting-edge technologies and automated control using an algorithmic approach, it maintains ideal conditions for plant growth and molecular composition, while significantly reducing cultivation surface, water and energy consumption,” said Belvisi.
She continued: “Inside its structure, the growing, hydraulic and atmospheric systems ensure climatic (temperature, CO2, humidity), nutritional (nutrients, concentration, irrigation, pH) and light (intensity, photosynthesis and photoperiodism) balance.”
It also uses AI-based management and monitoring software so it can adapt to conditions inside without human intervention.
By employing an integrated water treatment system, BioPod uses 99% less water than traditional agriculture and eliminates waste and runoff.
Potential to revolutionise plant-based naturals
The system has the potential to revolutionise production of plant-based natural ingredients in the beauty industry. “Thanks to a triple expertise in controlled environment, artificial intelligence and biology, BioPod accelerates production cycles, increases production of bioactive compounds in plants, while offering a sustainable cultivation tool that anticipates the challenges of sourcing plants and the environmental impact of producing natural ingredients. It offers the best natural products for a more sustainable beauty industry,” said Belvisi.
Belvisi believes that BioPod will make it possible to re-localise the production of more than 300 plant species that are used daily in the food, cosmetics, perfume or medicine industry. Plants such as flowers, micro-sprouts, roots or berries from all over the world that will grow without seasonality while still maintaining their quality.
Robertet set to pioneer BioPod
Grasse-based natural and raw materials fragrances and flavours company Robertet announced that it was the first company to acquire a BioPod in late September.
Belvisi said the BioPod will be deployed in the first semester of 2024 and that potentially 10 more could be installed by the end of 2025.
“BioPod is intended for research. Robertet's experts will be able to further their research activities, test new varieties, accelerate production cycles, increase production of bioactive compounds in plants while offering a sustainable cultivation tool that anticipates environmental challenges,” she explained.
She continued: “This first contract with Interstellar Lab will enable Robertet to accelerate its knowledge, while reducing its environmental footprint for precision agriculture. This initiative aims to further agronomic research in the industries of fragrance, flavours, and well-being.”
CEO of Robertet, Jerome Bruhat said of the company's decision to work with the BioPod: “The arrival of this BioPod in Grasse illustrates Robertet’s innovation strategy: using cutting-edge technologies to offer our customers the best natural products for a more sustainable industry. We are doing this with a recognised pioneer in biofarming.”
“A win/win way to explore potential of innovative technologies”
Meanwhile, since 2020 L'Oréal has been working on its ‘L'Oréal for the Future’ programme to adopt an ever more sustainable business model and thus contribute towards overcoming the environmental challenges, in terms of climate, water, biodiversity and resources.
Maria Dalko-Csiba, L'Oréal R&I, Green Sciences Incubator Director said: “L'Oréal is also convinced that to achieve this, it must co-construct with external partners, and in particular with startups.”
In 2021, the French multinational created an incubator for start-ups in the field of green technologies: the Green Sciences Incubator, as part of its Research & Innovation department.
“For L'Oréal, the incubation of start-ups like Interstellar is a win/win way to explore the potential of innovative technologies to help achieve the objectives set out in the L'Oréal for the Future programme,” explained Dalko-Csiba.
Interstellar Labs has also developed strategic partnerships with NASA and ESA for plant cultivation and research in microgravity. It’s based in Ivry-sur-Seine (France) and at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida (USA). It has over 30 employees from SpaceX, Airbus, Trimble and Agricool, and is backed by institutional investors including BPI and France 2030.