BMW i Ventures has invested in Natural Fiber Welding Inc. (NFW), a developer of plastic-free alternatives to 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 technologies to replace incumbent petrochemical-based materials such as synthetic leathers and enable natural inputs to be shaped and molded into a durable, all-natural, and fully recyclable leather alternative called Mirum. The material is based on raw materials such as minerals, corn, rice, coconut, and cork that are employed as fillers in natural resin and rubber-based matrixes.
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 mimics 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,” said Kasper Sage, Managing Partner at BMW i Ventures.
Using this fundraise, NFW will scale its production to full commercial capacity and capitalize on existing momentum to bring its alternative material to the market.
In February, NFW announced 110,000 square feet of new manufacturing space for production of its Mirum plant-based leather. This expansion more than doubles the Peoria startup’s manufacturing footprint. The company will eventually produce tens of millions of square feet of Mirum per year for global brand partners within this new space.
“Over the last two years we’ve been collaborating with a substantial number of brands who are ready to bring Mirum into the marketplace,” said Oihana Elizalde, Vice President at NFW and head of the Mirum business unit. “We’ve shown that Mirum can perform like conventional leather in several key segments, including fashion, footwear, and automotive, but without any plastic resins, glues, or coatings other plant-based alternatives rely on.”