Mercedes Expands the Vegan Car Interior Menu to Cactus, Mushrooms, and Beyond05/30/2022
When I was a kid, my folks bought cars with vinyl or polyester seats because those materials were cheap and easy to clean. Only fancy people sprang for leather, which always smelled amazing. But leather eventually became ubiquitous (and smelling of chemicals), and the sustainability crowd turned on it recently in favor of cruelty-free “vegan” interiors. But most of today’s vegan leather consists of a synthetic fabric with a polyurethane or PVC coating. Sounds like vinyl to me—not to mention somewhat less Earth-friendly than it’s made out to be. The Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX concept (see page 70 for more) explores several new, more sustainable “menu” options for going vegan.
Mushroom-Based Mylo “Unleather”
Mushrooms you see on a forest floor are produced by a fungus’ mycelium—its fibrous root system that helps break down organic matter to nourish plant life. By feeding mycelial cells a diet of sawdust and organic material in a vertical agriculture facility powered by renewable energy, a foamy, marshmallowy material can be harvested in as little as two weeks. It is then formed into sheets and processed using green chemistry principles. Some plasticizers ensure durability, but Mylo is certified 50-85 percent bio-based. Making its automotive debut in the EQXX, the perforated seat inserts look and feel like leather.
Deserttex Cactus Leather
Maybe you’d prefer your supple seating surface be made from nopal (prickly pear) cactus leaves? The Mexican firm Adriano Di Marti has developed Deserttex automotive upholstery, made by harvesting mature prickly pear leaves, which grow back naturally and require no irrigation, chemicals, or pesticides. These leaves are crushed, dried using sunlight, mixed with other nontoxic materials, and processed into vegan leather. It’s said to meet 10-year durability standards and, unlike Mylo, is partially biodegradable. Most of the EQXX’s white seating, console, and steering wheel material is Deserttex, which impressively mimics the spring-back and suppleness of collagen in animal leather.
AMSilk Biosteel Fiber
If you’re comfortable with mushroom and cactus leather, let’s talk bacterial silk produced by E. coli. Yes, it turns out that when you feed these food-poisoning bad guys starch, they make a white protein powder that can be wet-spun into a fiber that mimics the strength, mass, comfort, and moisture-management qualities of silk. It’s also naturally odor resistant and 100 percent biodegradable. German-based AMSilk cultivates the Escherichia coli bacteria by fermenting plant waste from the food industry. The EQXX features door release pulls woven from AMSilk Biosteel, but the company also markets Silkbeads and Silkgel products for use in medical coatings and in personal care products.
Perhaps my favorite “renewable” here is UBQ—a drop-in replacement thermoplastic pellet suitable for extruding, molding, and 3-D printing, made entirely of trash. Yes, any unsorted household trash, vehicle-shredder residue, etc., gets broken down into lignin, cellulose, fibers, and sugars, then melted in with other mixed plastics to form UBQ composite thermoplastic pellets. The process requires no water and minimal energy input, and it produces no waste or effluents. The EQXX’s headrest speaker grilles are UBQ, and Mercedes is exploring its use in trunk wells and other parts.
Bamboo and Fishnet Carpets; PET Fabrics
Rounding out the renewables inside the car are sumptuous navy blue thick-pile carpets made from 100 percent bamboo fibers, short-pile white carpet on the console made from recycled fishing nets and carpet scraps, and the blue textiles on the door panel and Dinamica faux suede on the steering wheel, door panels, and headliner, which are made from recycled polyesters (plastic bottles) and polyurethanes. We especially love the Dinamica door inserts, which are 3-D printed with tiny, two-tone plastic pyramids for an interesting visual effect.
Many of these materials are still low on their durability development curves and may never pass stringent automotive quality tests for extreme temperatures, sun soak, mechanical wear, and solvent exposure. Here’s hoping those that do pass muster end up feeling as rich and fancy as they do in the EQXX concept.
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Mercedes Expands the Vegan Car Interior Menu to Cactus, Mushrooms, and Beyond
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