What do you do when you’ve conquered the realm of business finance? After becoming the youngest female founder of a venture capital fund at 26, reaching top 10 Women in Tech in France, and entering the Forbes Top 100 in Europe, Barbara Belvisi, inspired by her Grandmother’s greenhouses, set her sights on sustainable living on Earth and space, and shared her vision with our region on April 4 at the Space Ag Conference in Grand Forks, ND.
Belvisi is the CEO and founder of Interstellar Lab. Before she started Interstellar Lab, her career was mostly in finance and private equity. Living in France, she splits her time between California, Florida, and Paris. Her roots started strong in France and Poland, where she spent time in her grandmother’s greenhouses.
Interstellar Lab’s primary innovation is the BioPod, a fully autonomous, enclosed mobile greenhouse. It doesn’t require a pre-laid foundation, has a fully self-contained water system that doesn’t require a connecting water line, and simply needs a power supply to operate. With an internal growing area of around 194-590 square feet and only needing 500 liters of water which can last three to six months, Interstellar Lab has high hopes for the BioPod, both here on earth and eventually in the reaches of space that humans strive for.
However, the BioPod, which Belvisi refers to as a “he,” is more than the hardware. Interstellar Lab designed the software for BioPod.
“We designed the BioPod to be a standalone device, like a computer or car. The BioPod can, by itself, know what to activate. It’s really creating a greenhouse that is almost a living animal. Its intelligence doesn’t need human intervention to play the climate. Inside the BioPod, you have multiple microcontrollers and sensors, so he knows when the temperature is too high. He has learning algorithms so he is self-learning as well,” Belvisi said.
That’s not to say things are perfect, yet, as there have been some breakouts that even Belvisi and her staff didn’t predict while using the BioPod.
“Plants have primary metabolites and secondary metabolites. The secondary metabolites are all the molecules used in the cosmetic industry and in medicinal plants. The plants increase or decrease the production of these metabolites based on light, temperature, humidity, CO2 level, and ozone as well. We’ve been playing with the BioPod on those plants and they each develop specific metabolites identity, completely unique because they live in the BioPod. Because it’s producing more of this one molecule that smells like citrus, it is completely unique. So the smell, we’re discussing with a perfume company,” Belvisi said.
So, it turns out, Belvisi and her team have invented a new smell!
Interstellar Lab is gearing up to bring the BioPod to market and is currently building the first of a series of five BioPods that will be progressively installed over the coming year with their clients and partner. Additionally, they are setting up their first BioPod factory to accelerate production in 2023.
“Right now, we’re working on what we call the BioPid factory, which [includes 3D printers that print] part of the structure and the membrane. [From there], we can manufacture three robots. We’re designing the factory and working with the French government to install one hopefully before the end of the year. With that, we can decrease the price of the BioPod,” Belvisi said.
“I spent a lot of time in the greenhouse of my grandmother’s when I was in Poland. That is probably where everything started“Barbara Belvisi
Right now, farms around the world consume roughly 70% of all water that is consumed annually. 40% of that water is lost to the environment due to evaporation, irrigation, and overall poor water management. Because of fertilizers, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals, agriculture is the number one leading source of pollution in many countries. Interstellar Lab seeks a more sustainable agriculture where humans and plants can better coexist.
“We don’t pollute the soil because we don’t touch the ground, no polluted water comes out of our systems. We actually take CO2 out of the atmosphere. We have a scrubbing device in the BioPod to accelerate plant growth. So, by enriching BioPod with CO2, we can accelerate plant growth and compared to other greenhouses. We’re taking CO2 from the atmosphere and are net negative for CO2,” Belvisi said.
This level of efficiency can be utilized for more than simple food production. The more functions systems have in a weight-limited setting, such as space travel, the better. With the possibility of oxygen production and water filtration, BioPod will also have a positive psychological impact.
“Plants and humans work very well together. Humans expel CO2 and plants need CO2 and produce oxygen. It makes a lot of sense to grow plants in a station or on the Moon to provide oxygen. When it comes to water, right now we are using membranes to purify the water but the truth is we can also use plants to purify water. There is also the psychological aspect of having plants. In the Space Station every astronaut can tell you that they are the happiest when there are plants around them. There is a smell, there is life, they don’t feel lonely, and it reminds them of the Earth. And that’s only on the space station, can you imagine on the Moon and then the future on Mars?” Belvisi said.
William Cowper tells us, “Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavor,” and Interstellar Lab agrees. Currently they are growing 12 different species of plants, from pineapples to vanilla and even a few different fungi. They believe in the importance of bringing variety not only to future space travelers, but to those of us who will always call Earth home. Interstellar Lab intends to use what our ancestors have taught us about food and bring it into the future.
“I think it is going to be bridging everything we can learn from our ancestors and creating more diversity. Right now, around the world, it is mostly 11 species that are feeding 70% of the population which is ridiculous compared to the biodiversity that we have,” Belvisi said.
Belvisi and her team at Interstellar Lab have out-of-this-world dreams with the experience and science to back them up. You can learn more about Interstellar Lab and the BioPod that some of the team have lovingly nicknamed EVE, inspired by WALL-E, at interstellarlab.com