INNOVATOR PROFILE

NATURAL FIBER WELDING

COMPANY INFORMATION

Founded: 2015

Headquarters: Peoria, Illinois, USA

Number of Employees: 27

COMPANY HISTORY

Founded in 2015 by Luke Haverhals, PhD., Natural Fiber Welding, Inc. uses closed-loop chemical processes and machine automation to make fiber-welded composites that are stronger, lighter, more affordable, more sustainable, and more easily recycled and reused than other composites. Their processes are the product of more than $10 million of fundamental and applied research funded by several Department of Defense initiatives and almost $2 million in Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding.

Haverhals, the company’s CEO, has long been concerned about the plastics problem in the materials industry. The unsustainability of petroleum use and the hazards of microplastic residue motivated him and his company to make “plants, not plastic” their rallying cry. The company’s vision and mission are to reduce dependence on petroleum-based synthetics by creating revolutionary performance materials, sustainably made from cost-effective natural fibers.

A 27-person team with a “rugged get-it-done mentality,” the majority of Natural Fiber Welding’s team members have extensive engineering and manufacturing competencies. Several, including Haverhals, have experience in sustainable agriculture.

ALTERNATIVE LEATHER
Mirum, a high performance plant-based leather that uses no petroleum-based plastics like polyurethane or PVC.

MIRUM ALTERNATIVE LEATHER

Natural Fiber Welding produces several materials; this profile focuses on their alternative leather.

After developing the technology for fiber-binding - in short, applying chemicals to disconnect molecular bonds on natural fiber surfaces to allow bonding to other molecules - Haverhals and his team developed a parallel process to create Mirum, a high performance plant-based leather that uses no petroleum-based plastics like polyurethane or PVC.

Mirum is a biodegradable composite crafted by compressing unused and/or discarded fiber sources in a mold and coating with NFW’s plant-based oil resin. This process allows for a range of independently definable characteristics such as thickness, flexibility, texture, color, pattern, and finish. Mirum can be recycled into new Mirum products a virtually indefinite number of times.

TECHNOLOGY

Production process: Mechanical/Chemical

Natural Fiber Welding uses a proprietary plant-based oil resin that is applied to textiles or other backing material to create material with leather-like qualities. The resulting composite material has superior tear strength, flexibility, dimensional stability, and fabrication integrity than alternative synthetic leathers and exhibits properties closer to natural leather.

Their resin-treatment technology is tunable to many types of base materials, including the production of vulcanized rubber for shoe soles. Using the alternative leather material for shoe uppers, completely Mirum shoes can be produced. This is very desirable in the circular fashion economy, as all of the component materials can be disassembled and reused using the same processes.

SUSTAINABILITY

According to our assessments, Mirum is far more sustainable than bovine leather across all life-cycle impact categories and also less intensive than polyurethane- or PVC-based synthetic leather.

Mirum is made from 100% plants with no plastics or glue and is fully biodegradable. NFW cuts as much of the material as possible at their facility and all of the scraps are fed back into the process. At the end of life, Mirum products can be disassembled and fed back into Mirum production.

The production process can use many waste materials as raw material inputs. These inputs impact relative water and energy use as well as land use impact, but are likely significantly reduced compared to using virgin raw materials. Land requirements are moderate to high for vegetable oil and natural rubber inputs used in the Mirum process and will vary on the sourcing decisions. Some formulations contain beeswax, but otherwise no animals are used in the production of the company’s materials. As formulations can be customizable per client, the end product can be made 100% animal-free.

SENSORY/TACTILE

Mirum can be embossed with desired decorative or structural textures by using a hydraulic press and embossed texture plate. Another feature of Mirum is its compatibility with structural color pigment, which can render more realistic bulk color properties and give sharp contrast and visual depth to the embossed texture.

Mirum is customizable in a wide range of categories. The fiber-welding technology can be applied to any plant-based raw materials and allows for the pattern, stability, texture, weight, flexibility, smell, shine, and hand feel to be adjusted to suit client preferences. Their comprehensive swatch book contains samples in a variety of colors, thicknesses, finishes, and backings.

CURRENT APPLICATIONS

ACCESSORIES, FOOTWEAR, CLOTHING, AUTOMOTIVE

Mirum debuted at London Fashion Week in 2019 in FELDER FELDER. "Mirum is exciting to us because it's the ultimate playground. The material is infinitely tunable to our aesthetic, can perform in a variety of conditions, and has a simply beautiful look and feel," said Daniela Felder of FELDER FELDER. "We were able to design a glamorous garment that contained absolutely zero plastic. We believe the fashion industry has a responsibility to give back to the earth that provides us with the resources we use daily to live beautifully.”

In February 2020 Natural Fiber Welding showcased their pilot project with Porsche and Motherson at Startup Autobahn.

Images from Natural Fiber Welding.

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