The 'greening' of interior leather

  • 18-Oct-2008 10:12 EDT
I Nathan Mallinix.jpg
Eagle Ottawa's Nathan Mullinix holds leather shavings, which today are sent to landfills. In the future, the leather shavings are planned to be a key ingredient in select automotive interior applications, such as a covering material for door panels.

An investigative program to re-use scrap material generated during the leather-making process could potentially prevent more than 2,100 tons of leather shavings from being dumped into landfills each year.

"We are able to redirect or repurpose 95 percent of our trim leather waste. On a yearly basis that means approximately 4,500 tons of our leather waste is re-used. Leather shavings are not being re-purposed today, but we're working to change that," said Nathan Mullinix, Vice President of Research and Development in the Americas for Eagle Ottawa, the world's largest provider of automotive interior leather.

Perhaps as early as 2010, production vehicle interiors could include products made from Eagle Ottawa's leather shavings. What is needed to transform leather shavings into leather-covered interior applications involves the binding technology.

"Thinner, more pliable substrates are being developed as is the coating and graining technology that would be required to convert these thinner and more pliable substrates into products that will meet or exceed automotive requirements," said Steve Surbrook, Director of New Business Development for Eagle Ottawa, headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan. "This is still a concept material, but component wrapping applications and seating applications are being investigated."

Making leather seats or leather-wrapped interior trim easy to clean is also getting attention. Eagle Ottawa researchers are working with representatives of the supply base to evaluate finishing materials as well as new resins that could be used to elicit leather that is cleanable. "Our ultimate goal for anti-soiling coatings would be to develop a leather that does not get dirty, meaning it resists soiling agents," said Mullinix.

Stains from food, ink, and blue jean dyes are among the more common foils for leather, so keeping leather looking new on vehicle seats and other interior locales can be a challenge for consumers. "It may be a rather ambitious goal to prevent soiling agents from staining leather, which is why as a practical substitute the development of leathers that are more easily cleanable with simple soap and water is a good improvement and is therefore more realistically obtainable in the near-term," said Mullinix.

Current product offerings include water-resistant leather and Cool Leather. Intended for open-air vehicles, water-resistant leather is designed to slow the penetration of water without adversely affecting the leather. "Through our custom leather tanning process, we impart water-resistant character to the leather," said Mullinix. Cool Leather is designed "to reduce the surface temperature of the leather by as much as 40 degrees Fahrenheit when compared to conventional leather. Our Cool Leather is based on a chemical technology that reflects approximately 50% of the sun's energy away from the leather," said Mullinix.

The privately owned Eagle Ottawa has 19 design, sales, and manufacturing facilities in Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.

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