BMW i Ventures has invested in Natural Fiber Welding, Inc. (NFW), a creator of all-natural, plastic-free alternatives to animal- or petrochemical-based materials such as leathers, foams, and textiles. The financing round will enable the company to scale from the batch processing of materials to commercial roll-to-roll production.
NFW has developed novel technologies to replace incumbent petrochemical-based materials (e.g. synthetic leathers) and enable natural inputs to be shaped and molded into a durable, all-natural and fully recyclable leather alternative called MIRUM.
MIRUM is made with natural, biodegradable polymers. The finished materials are never coated in polyurethane and use no synthetic binders.
MIRUM is far less resource-intensive to produce than animal leather and synthetic leather. Research suggests that animal leather requires the emission of between 2-12 kg carbon dioxide equivalent per kg of animal leather produced and can vary greatly depending on where animals are raised, how tanning is achieved, etc. Synthetic polyurethane-based leathers require around 5 kg carbon dioxide equivalent per kg of synthetic polymer produced.
MIRUM requires no tanning and is made from natural polymers and materials (e.g., ‘waste’ cork powder). NFW is producing MIRUM formulations that require a fraction of a kg of carbon dioxide equivalent per kg of MIRUM produced.
In addition to having an extremely low carbon footprint, MIRUM requires no water during manufacturing and dyeing.
In addition to the investment by BMW i Ventures, BMW Group also announced its intention to form a strategic partnership with NFW to further its own sustainability goals. BMW Group has set ambitious sustainability targets as it aims to reduce CO2 emissions along the entire value chain. To achieve this, the company primarily seeks to make use of recyclable materials, or materials that have a lower carbon footprint, while still retaining the same high functionality, aesthetics, and premium quality.
Natural Fiber Welding has developed an innovative process of converting plants into all-natural, 100% recyclable material that mimic all the properties of traditional leather, yarns and foams. Having a scalable, cost-competitive alternative to leather with premium qualities is key to further advancing the decarbonization of the automotive industry.—Kasper Sage, managing partner at BMW i Ventures
Using this fundraise, NFW will scale its production to full commercial capacity and capitalize on its existing momentum to bring its alternative material to the market. NFW was founded in 2015 and is based in Peoria, Illinois.