It was the excitement of the big days this Tuesday, September 20 in Ivry-sur-Seine. And for good reason, the French start-up Interstellar Lab presented on its premises its very first BioPod, a biodome which allows the cultivation of all types of plants in a controlled environment on Earth and in space. With the concentrate of technologies it embeds, this greenhouse of the future aims to develop sustainable and regenerative agriculture at a time when the agricultural sector is being put to the test by global warming.
With this in mind, Interstellar Lab relies on the cultivation of plants in aeroponics, an above-ground cultivation technique. To reproduce the optimal climatic conditions for growing plants, the start-up, which collaborates with NASA and Cnes, controls all the parameters of the environment (temperature, humidity, air, irrigation, CO2 level, etc.) using sensors that collect data in real time. These feed the BioPod’s management software, which works with artificial intelligence algorithms. The unveiled BioPod is the first of a series of ten, which will be installed in 2023. To industrialize the project, a first factory must see the light of day the same year, with the objective of producing a hundred BioPods per year at the horizon 2024.
With this approach, it is thus possible to cultivate all types of plants anywhere on the planet and to test different climates, at a time when heat waves and natural disasters are on the increase. “The BioPod is the perfect tool to test the effects of global warming”, says Barbara Belvisi, founder and president of Interstellar Lab. “Everything is automated inside. We can launch programs that allow us to test different types of crops”she adds.
Interstellar Lab’s process, which also makes it possible to grow endangered plants, is reminiscent in some ways of the urban farms that have spread across the world in recent years under the impetus of start-ups like Agricool. It is no coincidence that Antoine Pineau, who spent more than four years at Agricool, heads the agronomy division of Interstellar Lab. But with Barbara Belvisi’s project, the objective is not to bring agriculture into urban areas, but into the hostile territories of the planet, where it is difficult, if not impossible, to grow plants, and even in the space.
BioPod, first element of a self-sufficient and bio-regenerative village
The first prototype presented on Tuesday, September 20 is only designed to operate on Earth, but the French company plans to present a space version of the BioPod at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida by the end of the year. In the longer term, Interstellar Lab plans to send its agriculture modules into low orbit, which will notably make it possible to study the impact of the sun’s rays on its futuristic greenhouses, then to take them off to the Moon, not before 2027, then March. In this context, the French start-up collaborates in particular with NASA on the Artemis mission.
However, Interstellar Lab’s ambitions go far beyond the BioPod. It is only one component of a larger project to create self-sufficient and bio-regenerative villages on Earth and other planets, dubbed EBIOS (Experimental BIOregenerative Station), which would operate in a closed circuit. Thus, they would be able to generate and recycle the water, food and energy needed to accommodate 100 people with a neutral carbon footprint. But we will have to wait a few more years to go to infinity and beyond…