Glowee: the French company that uses bacteria as an alternative source of energy

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40 km southwest of the heart of Paris is the town of Rambouillet. Its population of around 26,000 (according to the latest French census) is learning to co-exist with millions of new neighbors, as they begin the slow transition from electricity to bioluminescent bacteria lighting up their city.

In an attempt to combat light pollution, French CEO Sandra Rey (on the 2017 Forbes 30 under 30 list) founded “Glowee” in late 2014.

According to the Glowee website, the company’s objective is “to bring nature back to the city by creating a privileged link with its lighting system, to awaken citizens to the power of nature and to encourage a change in consumption patterns thanks to a new philosophy of less aggressive and more harmonious lighting.

The “City of Lights” – and France as a whole – has tackled its energy consumption and its effect on the planet primarily by reducing or eliminating harmful energy sources, as set out in the Accord of Paris on the climate. However, light pollution remains a widespread problem in cities around the world and Rey aims to help prevent it.

“Our aim is to change the way cities use light,” Rey told the BBC. “We want to create an atmosphere that is more respectful of citizens, the environment and biodiversity – and impose this new philosophy of light as a real alternative.”

In an interview with CNN, Rey explained that by using bacteria closely related to those found in deep-sea bioluminescent creatures, Rey and his team are able to replicate the biochemical reactions that occur naturally in the ocean. ocean.

“We use genes, the coding for the biochemical reaction of bioluminescence inside bacteria. … We took these genes and put them into the most common bacteria that we use in the lab. Then we “grow” the light.

An article from One Time Out describes how the characteristic turquoise glow of Glowee bulbs and stickers comes from Aliivibrio Fischeri, the exponentially growing natural bacterial strain that can be collected and further modified. Maintenance involves providing oxygen, food, and an environment in which said bacteria can grow, keeping billboard, street, and city lighting costs low.

“Instead of replacing street light bulbs, we’ve created a whole new approach,” Rey told Time Out. “With this new approach, we found the solution we have today.”

While Rambouillet is far from entirely bathed in a biological glow, Rey hopes to shift it and cities around the world to a softer, renewable source of light. The BBC reports that Glowee is currently coordinating with 40 cities across France, Belgium, Switzerland and Portugal, and the start-up has received support from the European Commission and the National Institute of Health and Research. medicine in France.

However, the transition to a biochemically lit urban environment will require more than the original Glowee stickers and lamps.

“We know the window display market is now very dated, and we just need to have a bit more intensity to get there…but we also have a lot of interest in the construction industry and the industrial energy,” Rey told CNN. .

Long-term integration into furniture and architecture is what Rey envisioned for bioluminescent bacteria, but as of 2022 Glowee lighting may only last for days or weeks before requiring maintenance and/or a suitable replacement, reports the BBC. Despite the long road ahead, Rey is still optimistic.

“We’re taking it bit by bit,” she told the BBC. “But we have already made tremendous progress and our philosophy of light is a response to the crisis facing humanity.”

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