No more filtering carafes: a new zero waste and natural solution to purify water
The history of LaVie
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.
Saadi and Pascal, co-inventors of LaVie
Extensive expertise in mechanical engineering.
Launch of several successful renewable energy companies in France and North Africa.
Entrepreneur since his twenties.
Creation of several electric vehicle companies (France, Tunisia), including Eon Motors, commercialized in 2007.
This is the story of two friends from the South of France, with a lot of ideas in their heads, who one day decided to join forces to set up their company, with the ambition of innovating in the field of ecology. Up to this point, the adventure could seem quite banal. Except that in the course of their experiments, Pascal Nuti and Saadi Brahmi made a discovery that could revolutionize access to drinking water worldwide…
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 a solar panel company that was at the end of its life. We wanted to start a war machine, to innovate, and the first thing that came to mind was to solve the number one problem in the world, which is access to clean water. Since we were a little strong in solar and energy experience, we figured we would solve this problem solar.”
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 realized that it would never take: we developed prototypes and won innovation awards, but we ended up stopping, because we had to adapt to certain demands from Europe 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 realized that developing countries, our initial target, could not afford them. We had to reduce the format and make the product accessible to everyone.”
Colleagues are currently working on 1-liter bottle prototypes and are starting to do solar concentration. We started pasteurizing the water, which consists of raising it to 60°C to remove the bacteria,” explains Pascal Nuti. You have to know that bacteria, in the developing world, is the number one problem, even if today, unfortunately, those of chemical pollution are added to it.”
On a 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 at ourselves 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 conducted in Canada: “Scientists had tried to shoot down chlorine with UV light but had done a poor job of it, so they deduced that it was dangerous,” notes the entrepreneur. The process degrades molecules, creating intermediates that can be more dangerous than the original product. On our side, we make sure we achieve total abatement, and we’ve never had any dangerous products: of course we 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 you are sure that there is chlorine in the water, but without a solar concentrator you will need 2 to 2.5 hours of full sun: to drink a liter of water in Paris, New York or Shanghai, it will be complicated! exclaims the co-founder. And no one 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 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.”
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.
With this process, chlorine and its by-products disappear, organic pollutants such as pesticides and traces of drugs are removed, and trace elements are preserved, the entrepreneurs promise.
The idea of the two entrepreneurs was indeed at that time to create water purifiers running on artificial light, to sell them to developed countries, and to pay from their profits so that the solar version of their experiment, 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,” says Pascal Nuti.
It’s 2017 and it’s decided, the name of their company, which offers artificial light purifiers and caters to developed countries, will be called LaVie. Pascal Nuti and Saadi Brahmi have finally developed their purifiers: a treatment cylinder in which, thanks to LEDs, solar UVA is reproduced, multiplied by 6. Simply fill a glass bottle, supplied with it, with tap water, insert it and close it. The case automatically detects the presence of the bottle, turns on and off after 15 minutes. According to the partners, the advantage over a carafe filter is that the water cannot be contaminated by bacteria, as it is not left in the open air, and the fact that LaVie purifiers operate without filters, require no maintenance and generate no waste. The artificial light is programmed to last 50,000 hours, which corresponds to 200,000 liters of treated water, according to Pascal Nuti. In other words, it will never have to be replaced.
An award at CES in Las Vegas
A beautiful project, still it is necessary to talk about it and succeed in selling it, before launching into the pure and hard production: the two entrepreneurs then decide, at the end of 2017, to go to the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, a huge show dedicated to technological innovation in consumer electronics. They won an award for their eco-sustainable water treatment process and were even noticed, according to Pascal Nuti, by large companies such as PepsiCo and Veolia. “We had a prototype purifier and experimented with it with Las Vegas water, some of the most ‘rotten’ water in the world,” the entrepreneur relates. 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 found ourselves making 1,000 prototypes that we delivered in the fall,” says the entrepreneur. From all over the world where we delivered, whether in Colombia, Brazil, the United States and Europe, we got congratulatory messages.”
A few months later, Boulanger called them back to order… 4000 to 5000 purifiers this time. This is the beginning of the transformation of the company, which suddenly changes its scale. This caused us a lot of problems,” notes Pascal Nuti. We weren’t ready. We stayed in the company for two years with just the two of us to design everything.” The team has since tripled. She has everything manufactured and assembled locally, except for the glass bottle, which is made in China, as no other solution has been found for this type of glass. Today, LaVie sells its products via its website, but they are also available in Boulanger stores in France.
CES 2022 - Pascal Nuti on the LaVie booth
The company is preparing to launch a new fundraising round by the summer, focusing on its community of customers. Also on the agenda for the next few months: the launch of water coolers for homes, and others for professionals and communities. These fountains must have the advantage of creating chlorine in situ, chlorine intended in particular to clean them: “We will be able to do without maintenance and therefore break the prices in this field while increasing safety, estimates Pascal Nuti… Because today in communities, we have many water fountains for which the renters sometimes forget their maintenance obligations!” These fountains are expected to be on the market by the end of 2021. Entrepreneurs are largely convinced that their business will be far from being a storm in a glass of water…
Interview conducted by ID L’INFO DURABLE
Why filter your water? The opinion of Pascal Nuti, co-founder of LaVie
“If you take a map of France of drinking water, you will see that there are a hundred points in red, which are variable, simply because we have pollution for example by pesticides. They are found in quantities that are measured, which are not a priori dangerous since the State claims it, except that the State never measures anything other than the pollution element by element. If, for example, we take a quality water with several pesticides at the same time, no one has gone to check whether the absorption of these three elements together is carcinogenic or not. Unfortunately, these are called pesticide cocktails and everyone in the scientific community thinks that they are quite dangerous, even very harmful. But if you want to measure all the pesticide conjugations you would need a millennium of work!”