Bio-based Leather Alternative for Auto Interiors Attracts InvestmentBio-based Leather for Auto Interiors Attracts Investment
Japan’s Asahi Kasei forms a strategic partnership with Peoria-based startup NFW in step to reduce environmental burden of automobiles.
November 10, 2023
NFW, a startup based in Peoria, IL, that produces non-petroleum-based leather alternatives for car interiors, has attracted investment from Asahi Kasei. The Japanese company and its US-based affiliate, Sage Automotive Interiors Inc., said it will work with NFW in a strategic partnership enabling another major step to support global automotive OEMs in reducing the environmental burden of automobiles.
NFW was founded in 2015 and has developed a platform capable of producing precision-engineered leather, foam, and textiles without using animal- or petrochemicals-based materials. The company's patented leather alternative, called Mirum, is certified by the US Department of Agriculture as having 100% bio-based content, and is made from natural rubber, fibers, plant oils, pigments, and minerals. The material’s durability and quality make it a suitable replacement for traditional animal-based or synthetic leather products without the use of polyurethane or other coatings.
A yen for sustainable growth
Sage Automotive is engaged in the development, manufacture, and sale of innovative functional materials used in automobile interiors globally. Since its acquisition by Asahi Kasei in 2018, Sage has been strengthening its business activities in Europe and China through mergers and acquisitions, parallel to expanding its lineup of growth-potential materials such as suede and synthetic leather. As one of the leading global suppliers in the car seat fabric market, Sage has a strong presence among automakers and suppliers.
Dirk Pieper, chairman of the Sage board of directors and lead executive for the development and growth of Asahi Kasei’s overall automotive product offering, stated: “The cooperation with NFW will enable Asahi Kasei and Sage to assist global automakers in reducing the environmental burden of their cars. By jointly developing and manufacturing a non-petroleum-based and fully circular leather alternative, the Asahi Kasei Group takes a leading position in revolutionizing the market for car interior materials.”
Asahi Kasei earmarks $100 million for sustainability-minded startups
The cooperation with NFW is the first project within Asahi Kasei’s Care for Earth investment framework announced in April 2023. The company allocated up to $100 million for investments worldwide in early-stage startups that aim to solve issues in environmental fields, such as hydrogen, energy storage, carbon management, and bio-based chemicals, over a five-year period up to fiscal 2027. As described in its medium-term management plan in April 2022, the car interior materials business is one of Asahi Kasei’s “10 Growth Gears” (GG10) that are to drive future growth, targeting more than 70% of operating income around 2030.
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