KBCols produces environmentally friendly colourants from microbes

ISC3 – International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre

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KBCols produces environmentally friendly colourants from microbes

1. The KBCols-Research-Team

2. The colour red, produced by KBCol

3. Dr. Vaishali Kulkarni and Dr. Arjun Singh Bajwa, the two KBCols-Founders

4. Based in Pune: The lab of the Start-Up KBCols Sciences

The Indian start-up KBCols Sciences, founded by Dr. Vaishali M. Kulkarni, is extracting natural pigments and bioactive compounds from microbes and produces a new generation of environmentally friendly and sustainable natural colours. By replacing harmful synthetic colourants, KBCols not only helps improve responsible production of coloured products but also contributes to preventing severe diseases amongst workers within colour using industries. For these reasons, KBCols has been chosen as ISC3 Start-Up of the month for May 2020.

Year of Foundation: 2018

Addresses the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): SDG 6, 8, 12, 14


Precaution is always better than curing up later

The female-led Indian start-up "KBCols" was incorporated in 2018 after its founder and director, Dr. Vaishali Kulkarni, finished her Ph.D. in Bioprocess Technology at ICT Mumbai. At university, she had witnessed many fellow researchers working on treating wastewaters derived from the Indian textile dyeing industries. In contrast to her fellow researchers, Dr. Kulkarni decided to eliminate the production of sewage altogether instead of only treating it. With this new approach in mind, she set out to extract natural colours from bacteria to invent an environmentally friendly way that could, in fact, replace the production and application of harmful synthetic colours.

Winning an Indian government-based biotechnology ignition grant in 2018 sponsored by BIRAC (Biotechnology Industry Research assistance council) allowed her to found KBCols and work full-time on her innovation. After 6 long months of research, Dr. Kulkarni managed to find a bacterium producing yellow colour. From there, KBCols first focused on developing the other primary, and then secondary colours, which were only recently followed by white. "Finding bacteria that gave us blue finally enabled us to target the textile dyeing industry. We could now provide them with a sustainable and safe alternative to common denim dying, which is among the most important application fields within this industry," Dr. Kulkarni explains.

Planning ahead for a more colourful world

KBCols' products consist of coloured powders that look just like synthetic colouring powders, and the achieved colouring results are very stable as well. Fabric dyed two years ago is still retaining its shade, and even changes in pH-value or temperature conditions do not alternate it. KBCol's products are safe to be applied at home, and even an edible bacteria-free colour, which could be applied in the food and cosmetics industry, is being tested. "The cost of our microbe-based colourants is comparable to that of other natural dyes used in the market. Of course, synthetic colours are less expensive but only as long as the environmental costs are not included in the calculation", emphasizes Dr. Kulkarni.

Just recently, the first Indian industry partners started to test KBCols natural colours on their products. Once this first trial and validation phase within the industry is concluded, and IP procedures are complete, KBCols is planning on expanding and working with the European and US-American textile, paint, food and cosmetic industries as well.

The impact of sustainable colours

The most widely spread types of colourants are petroleum-based synthetic colourants. They are cheap, but they create toxic waste waters and, during their application, workers are exposed to dust, vapours, fumes, gases and solvents, which pose significant health risks. Conventional natural dyes, in turn, generally come from distinct plants, vegetables, flowers, and animals. They are time-consuming, laborious and expensive to produce, and often originate from unsustainable farming methods. Also, natural colour quality varies due to soil-to-soil variation. By providing biologically produced colour pigments from almost unlimited, safe, and renewable sources, such as bacteria, KBCols can solve many of the limitations mentioned above while paving the way towards a more environmentally friendly textile industry.

Thanks to its innovation, the award-winning start-up KBCols is actively contributing to the SDGs 6 (clean water & sanitation), SDG 8 (decent work & economic growth), SDG 12 (responsible consumption & production), as well as SDG 14 (Life below water). It was on-boarded to the ISC3 Global Start-up Service in October 2019 and invited to pitch during the ISC3 workshop at the Industrial Green Chemistry World 2019 in Mumbai, India. In October 2020, KBCols will showcase its innovation at the ISC3 Investor Forum 2020 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.