The polyurethane foam used to make car seats usually ends up in landfills because it is costly to recycle. A Spanish-French consortium has come up with a sustainable 3D fabric made from industrial waste that can be easily recycled when a seat reaches the end of its life.
The Commission is putting pressure on the EU’s automotive industry to increase sustainability by recycling car components. “So far, we’ve been good at recycling aluminium and steel, and fabrics made of polypropylene and polyethylene, but we’ve neglected the polyurethane foam used for car seats because it’s expensive and quite difficult to do,” says Javier Jiménez, a member of the EU-backed GREENUP project.
Jiménez works for Leitat Technological Centre, at the head of a five-company consortium that has jointly developed a new 3D fabric made of recycled polyester yarns. These yarns can be combined with leather to make seats. The group has also developed a sustainable process for cutting and tanning leather that involves less waste and uses low-impact chemical products. Both the polyester and the leather, when worn out, can be recycled.
The consortium was set up with an eye to each step in the production process, starting with Antex, the Spanish company that created the new yarns, and Cima, another Spanish company that produced the 3D fabric. Aiica, also Spanish, and Leitat worked on improving the efficiency and sustainability of the tanning process.
For the final prototype, a French company, Technisit, designed and produced a prototype train seat, which it is in the process of commercialising. The seats can be used in trains, cars, trucks and the whole automotive sector, but also as office furniture. The 3D fabric prototype seat means a 43% reduction in CO2 emissions, and requires 52% less water and 36% less energy than the traditional foam seat.
Photo © GREENUP consortium