The Gironde-based start-up is using 11 patents to create pigments that can change color according to industrial specifications. For example to indicate a rate of wear or a shock. Or even a temperature or a pressure that would exceed tolerance thresholds.
During eight years of fundamental research at the Bordeaux Institute of Condensed Matter Chemistry (ICMCB), Jean-François Létard, director of research at the CNRS, has filed no fewer than 11 patents on behalf of the CNRS and the University of Bordeaux - now managed by the Bordeaux Technology Transfer Acceleration Company (Satt). "These patents relate to "smart pigments". They change color according to changes in the physical conditions of their environment. For example, a difference in temperature, pressure or light. Or even a shock or the presence of a gas, explains the former researcher who, taking advantage of his grant from the Ministry of Research as a winner in 2012 of the National Competition for the creation of innovative companies in the category "emerging project", financed a training course in the creation of innovative companies for one year at HEC. These patents were then extended to the whole of Europe, the United States and Japan.
OliKrom's smart pigments are hybrid materials made of organic and inorganic molecules that are assembled like bricks in a Lego set to define the properties one is aiming for. "We can obtain bi-color effects, going from one color to another, even tri-color if we want to combine several couples of physicochemical reactions. For example, the temperature-light couple and the temperature-pressure couple," explains the researcher turned entrepreneur whose company rents premises in the ChemInnov building, specially designed to host chemistry start-ups. The pigments are found in paints, inks or plastics to be melted for the plastics industry.
These properties are of interest to aeronautical groups such as Airbus and Turboméca (Safran group), among others. "With these intelligent pigments, we plan to monitor the health of aircraft materials. The shock due to a bird, a metal object or hail, a stretched and twisted part, an overheating around an engine ... All these anomalies are likely to be detected with the naked eye in a fraction of a second thanks to a change of color, "says the entrepreneur who already employs 9 people. In the event of a fire, we imagine painting doors so that a change of color warns the firemen of a level of heat which is behind. That can save lives." In the same spirit, the process is being used in the fight against theft or counterfeiting - a bit like DNA marking. You paint a white dot that turns blue. If you press it or change the temperature or the light, it turns blue. Only the owner knows this. This proves that the object is his. Today, Newport, an American distributor of optical equipment, distributes bank card format cards with intelligent pigment zones that are placed in front of an infrared laser beam, invisible to the naked eye, in order to identify the passage of the beam by a change in color. Objective: to protect the health of laser workers.
In fact, Jean-François Létard started his activity 5 years ago with a technology transfer unit backed by the Association for the Development of Teaching and Research at Universities, Research Centers and Companies in Aquitaine (Adera) with the help of the Aquitaine Regional Council and Bpifrance. "For four years, the project was incubated. As a result, when I created Olikrom last year, the business took off very quickly", explains the director of Olikrom who, without the support of the Regional Council, the Aquitaine Regional Incubator (Ira) and the CNRS, would not have been able to carry out his business project. After raising 300,000 euros from Starquest Capital and Pertinence Invest, Jean-François Létard expects to achieve a turnover of 1.4 million euros next year and 3.4 million euros in 2017. Winner a few weeks ago in the Young Start-up category of the Bougeons-nous competition organized by RMC radio, he has set himself the goal of becoming the world leader in intelligent pigments by 2020: "For the time being, we already have a production capacity of one ton of pigments per year," continues the company director. After a move planned for 2017, still in Aquitaine, we hope to increase this capacity to several tons per month."