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Interior Solutions to Climate Neutrality

BMW and MINI models offering vegan interiors on the market from 2023

by Chris Woffinden
vegan interiors 2

CO2 reduction is not only a selling point for car manufacturers but a clear and obvious necessity for the industry to reduce global emissions in as many ways as possible. There are numerous ways that this can be done, not least with the introduction of smaller, more efficient engines or electric, hybrid, and hydrogen drive trains. The materials required for car interiors also contribute a huge amount to CO2 emissions, simply by replacing the leather with a vegan alternative can lower this figure by up to 85 percent.

There is a move for sustainability across many industries as we look to combat the effects of climate change and vehicle manufacturing is no different. Innovation in bio-based materials is key to replacing raw materials of animal origin. It’s here that the BMW Group have been making great strides forwards and have announced their plans to launch its first vehicles featuring completely vegan interiors in 2023.

Carbon Neutrality by 2050

The switch to a completely vegan interior has been made possible by creating sufficiently durable and comfortable materials with leather-like properties. Of course, they can’t be the limits to the criteria as modern car interiors are far more than simply fit for purpose. The material must be wear-resistant whilst also offering a premium appearance and feel.

An absolute latest date of 2050 has been set by the BMW Group to achieve climate neutrality; material selection plays a key role on the road to this target. The replacement of materials from animal origin will play a major part in increasing sustainability in vehicle production. Thanks to the introduction of a new surface material for steering wheels, the number of materials derived from animals falls to below 1% in the respective BMW and MINI vehicles. Such materials will now only be found in areas not visible to those within the cabin and will include various waxy substances like gelatine used in protective coatings, lanolin and tallow in paints and elastomers respectively, and beeswax as a flux for paints.

Small Steps Can Offer Big Results

BMW has offered fabric alternatives to leather for a long time but never before has there been the option for a leather alternative. The steering wheel is a crucial area, one of the most important connections between driver and vehicle. The ergonomics of the steering wheel are vital to the driveability of the car and must be able to cope with a demanding existence comprising of consistent abrasion, perspiration, moisture and general wear and tear. It is not enough for a material to simply look like the leathers that have traditionally been used for steering wheels, but it must be able to cope with the same demands to the same degree. According to the BMW Group, the only noticeable difference will be a new grain effect on the steering wheel rim.

The steering wheel may seem a small and insignificant part when it comes to reducing CO2 emissions, but it provides a great example of how small changes can produce big results. An 85 percent reduction along the value chain is achieved when compared to the previously used real leather. Most of those emissions had been related to around 80 percent methane gas from cattle rearing and the final 20 percent from processing cowhide, a highly energy and water-intensive process.

The BMW Group have a strong plan to achieve their goal of climate neutrality. It relies on green electricity in production and in the supply chains, consistently increasing the amount of natural and secondary materials, and a high recycling rate in line with the principles of a circular economy. Couple this with highly efficient electric motors and combustion engines and it’s clear to see what the BMW Groups top priorities are.

Research & Development Are Driving Change

When all these changes and alterations are considered, the effects can become clear to see and the BMW Group are making such savings across many of their materials and manufacturing processes. For example, floor mats for various models are now mono-material, this allows them to be far easier to recycle than mixed materials. This alone allows for a saving of 23,000 tonnes of CO2 and 1,600 tonnes of waste every year. Any recycled floor mats and waste material are also reused within the production process.

Research and development plays a key role in achieving these goals and the BMW Group has been working with start-up companies to achieve them as quickly as possible. Bio-based materials can offer around a 45 percent reduction in co2 emissions even compared to the synthetic leathers that have previously been used. Mirum, is a 100 percent bio-based and petroleum-free material that mimics the properties of traditional leather. Another alternative is Deserttex, made from pulverised cactus fibres with a bio-based polyurethane matrix. If the BMW Group are able to help bring these products to market, they’d be able to offer a significant reduction in CO2 emissions and take valuable steps towards climate neutrality.

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