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No more filter jugs: a new zero waste and natural solution to purify water

LaVie's story

Two French entrepreneurs have developed a device capable of purifying water in 15 minutes in a natural way and without producing waste, thanks to LEDs: no more chlorine and its unpleasant taste, but also organic pollutants. Meeting.

Pascal et Saadi, co-inventeurs de LaVie

Pascal Nuti

Pascal Nuti
Serial entrepreneur depuis sa vingtaine
Electric vehicles companies creation (France, Tunisia), including Eon motors which went public in 2007

Saadi Brahmi

Saadi Brahmi
Vaste expertise en génie mécanique
Launch of several successful renewable energy companies in France and North Africa

C’est l’histoire de deux amis du Sud de la France, des idées plein la tête, qui un beau jour ont décidé de s’associer pour monter leur entreprise, avec l’ambition de faire de l’innovation dans le domaine de l’écologie. Jusque-là, l’aventure pourrait sembler somme toute banale. Sauf qu’au fil de leurs expériences, Pascal Nuti et Saadi Brahmi ont fait une découverte qui pourrait révolutionner l’accès à l’eau potable dans le monde…

Verre LaVie

It started in 2015 with two guys who had already known each other for about ten years, having shared projects related to electric mobility," recalls Pascal Nuti. My colleague was working at the time in a solar panel company that was at the end of its life. We wanted to launch a war machine, to innovate, and the first thing that came to mind was to solve the number one problem in the world, namely access to drinking water. Since we were a bit strong in solar and energy experience, we figured we would solve this problem in a solar way."

Solar solution for developing countries

The two partners then set up Solable (for "solar" and "drinking"), and worked in particular on solar water heaters. We finally realised that it would never take off: we developed prototypes and won innovation prizes, but we ended up stopping, because we had to adapt to certain European demands that did not suit us," explains Pascal Nuti. In any case, our research led us to reduce the format, because we were working on collective machines and we realised that the developing countries, our initial target, could not afford them. We had to reduce the format and make the product accessible to everyone."

At this stage, colleagues are working on prototypes of 1-litre bottles and are starting to do solar concentration. We have started to do pasteurization, which consists of raising the water to 60°C to remove its bacteria," explains Pascal Nuti. It is important to know that in the developing world, bacteria is the number one problem, even if today, unfortunately, chemical pollution is added to it.

One sunny day in Aix-en-Provence, Pascal Nuti and Saadi Brahmi experimented with "pasteurizing" their water thanks to the sun, and drinking it. "We looked a little silly, because the water had changed its taste, but pasteurization is not supposed to change the taste: it only kills the bacteria, notes Pascal Nuti. The next day, a little calmer, we repeated the experiment. And a month later, we understood why. Some of the sunlight had killed the chlorine, killing the taste of the tap water in the process."

The experiment had already been carried out in Canada: "Scientists had tried to kill chlorine with UV light but had done a poor job of it, so they deduced that it was dangerous," notes the entrepreneur. The process breaks down molecules, creating intermediates that can be more dangerous than the original product. On our side, we make sure we achieve total abatement and we have never had any dangerous products: we have of course looked for them." Does this mean that we only need to put a bottle in the sun for a while to get rid of all its bacteria and chlorine? Yes, provided that we are sure that there is chlorine in the water, but without a solar concentrator you will need 2 to 2.5 hours in the sun: to drink a litre of water in Paris, New York or Shanghai, it will be complicated!" exclaims the co-founder. And nobody will try it if they don't have the information and reassurance that goes with it."

Artificial" version for developed countries

Patenting their discovery seemed elementary to the partners: "We wondered if we were going to be taken for fools because we wanted to patent the sun," laughs Pascal Nuti. For this reason, and for another one which was to preserve the developing countries, we did not patent exactly what we did, but rather this same action produced by an artificial light. That's what we use today in our purifier. We made it so that the developing world could own the invention without having to pay royalties."

Purificateur et bouteille LaVie

The process they have patented is precisely the photolysis of chlorine by UV-A, which leads to a complex and totally natural oxidation reaction resulting in water purification.

Avec ce procédé, le chlore et ses dérivés disparaissent, les polluants organiques comme les pesticides et les traces de médicaments sont abattus, et les oligo-éléments sont préservés, promettent les entrepreneurs.

The idea of the two entrepreneurs was indeed at that time to create water purifiers working with artificial light, to sell them to developed countries, and to pay from their profits so that the solar version of their experience, much more accessible, could be deployed in developing countries. "The idea is to train someone and help him or her set up a business around this solar concentrator that treats water in 30 minutes, so that this solar solution can be multiplied, for example in Africa, and be marketed at 5 or 10 €, with micro-credit," explains Pascal Nuti.

Nous sommes en 2017 et c’est décidé, le nom de leur entreprise, qui propose des purificateurs à lumière artificielle et s’adresse aux pays développés, s’appellera LaVie. Pascal Nuti et Saadi Brahmi mettent définitivement au point leurs purificateurs : un cylindre de traitement dans lequel, grâce à des LED, sont reproduits les UVA solaires, multipliés par 6. Il suffit de remplir une bouteille en verre, fournie avec celui-ci, avec de l’eau du robinet, de l’y insérer et de la fermer. L’étui détecte automatiquement la présence de la bouteille, s’allume et s’éteint au bout de 15 minutes. Selon les associés, l’avantage par rapport à une carafe filtrante est notamment que l’eau ne peut pas être contaminée par des bactéries, n’étant pas laissée à l’air libre, et le fait que les purificateurs LaVie fonctionnent sans filtre, ne nécessitent aucun entretien et ne génèrent aucun déchet. La lumière artificielle est programmée pour durer 50 000 heures, ce qui correspond à 200 000 litres d'eau traités, selon Pascal Nuti. Autrement dit, elle n’aura a priori jamais à être remplacée.

An award at CES in Las Vegas

A great project, but it still needs to be talked about and successfully sold, before launching into pure production: the two entrepreneurs then decided, at the end of 2017, to go to CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, a huge show dedicated to technological innovation in consumer electronics. There they won an Award for their eco-sustainable water treatment process and even got noticed, according to Pascal Nuti, by large companies such as PepsiCo and Veolia. We had a prototype of a purifier and we experimented with the water of Las Vegas, one of the most 'rotten' in the world," says the entrepreneur. People were really surprised."

Saadi Brahmi and Pascal Nuti then launched a funding campaign on Kickstarter. They sell 500 purifiers to individuals, but also 500 to the French company Boulanger, which noticed their innovation in Las Vegas. "In mid-2018, we ended up making 1,000 prototypes that we delivered in the fall," says the entrepreneur. From all the places in the world where we delivered, whether in Colombia, Brazil, the United States and Europe, we got messages of congratulations."

Quelques mois plus tard, Boulanger les rappelle pour leur commander cette fois… 4000 à 5000 purificateurs. C’est le début de la transformation de l’entreprise, qui change tout à coup d’échelle. “Cela nous a posé des tas de problèmes, note Pascal Nuti. Nous n’étions pas prêts. Nous sommes restés pendant deux ans dans l’entreprise à deux pour tout concevoir.” L’équipe a depuis triplé. Elle fait fabriquer et assembler tout ce qu’elle peut localement, sauf la bouteille en verre, faite en Chine, faute d’autre solution trouvée pour ce type de verre actuellement. LaVie vend aujourd’hui ses produits via son site Web, mais ceux-ci sont également disponibles dans les enseignes Boulanger en France.

The company is preparing to launch a new fundraising campaign between now and the summer, focusing on its community of customers. Also on the agenda for the next few months: the launch of water fountains for homes, and others for professionals and communities. These fountains should have the advantage of creating chlorine in situ, chlorine intended in particular to clean them: "We will be able to do without maintenance and thus break the prices in this field while increasing safety, estimates Pascal Nuti... Because today in the communities, we have many water fountains for which the hirers sometimes forget their maintenance obligations!" These fountains should be put on the market by the end of 2021. The entrepreneurs are largely convinced: their business will be far from being a storm in a glass of water...

Why filter your water? The opinion of Pascal Nuti, co-founder of LaVie

"Si vous prenez une carte de France de l’eau potable, vous verrez qu'il y a une centaine de points en rouge, qui sont variables, tout simplement parce qu'on a des pollutions par exemple par les pesticides. On les retrouve dans des quantités qui sont mesurées, qui ne sont a priori pas dangereuses puisque l'État le prétend, sauf que l'État ne mesure jamais autre chose que la pollution élément par élément. Si par exemple on prend une eau de qualité avec plusieurs pesticides à la fois, personne n’est allé vérifier si l'absorption de ces trois éléments ensemble était cancérogène ou pas. Malheureusement, on appelle ça les cocktails de pesticides et tout le monde scientifique pense que c'est assez dangereux, voire très nocif. Mais si vous voulez mesurer toutes les conjugaisons de pesticides il vous faudrait un millénaire de travail !”

Interview by ID L'INFO DURABLE

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