Nov 22, 2023
by Karl Smith
The Latest Material Innovation News You Need to Know
by Karl Smith
Nov 22, 2023

It’s been a big month for material innovation – but, then, isn’t it always? Almost every day now it feels as though some new development has made its way from the sterile hush of research labs and into the public arena. There are now so many next-generation materials and next-generation material innovators that it’s actually hard to picture what the next generation will end up looking like. All of which, of course, is a very good thing.

And that’s why we make these lists: yes, as a way of keeping you up to date with the need-to-know goings on – passing on the funding news that keeps things moving and details on the materials that capital produces – but also as something of a signpost. A trail of next-generation breadcrumbs that, looking back, we hope will help make sense of the ever-evolving bigger picture.

And so, from new technologies that uses air to pre-wash denim to a new collection using marine waste as a wool substitute, from funding success for a compostable and fully plant-based plastic resin to a new deal that could well puts plastic-free materials into vehicle interiors across the world – here’s what you need to know this month from the world of material innovation.

Natural Fiber Welding Partners with Asahi Kasei & Sage Automotive

Branching out at an impressive pace and scale, Natural Fiber Welding is consistently leading the charge when it comes to pushing next-gen materials into the mainstream. The Peoria-based outfit’s MIRUM leather alternative is one of the only such materials able to claim total divestment from plastics and the ability to manufacture on an industrial level.

All of which is probably why the company continues to make new deals and new inroads almost every month – this one included. Having previously announced investment from BMW iVentures, NFW has now partnered with Sage Automotive and its Japanese parent company, Asahi Kasei, to deliver on plastic-free and animal-free vehicle interiors – a major step for the auto industry, further highlighting the fact that fuel type isn’t the only issue.

Gozen Secures $3.3 Million USD Funding

Having last month debuted its LUNAFORM biomaterial in collaboration with BALENCIAGA, material innovation startup Gozen has now raised an additional $3.3 million USD in seed funding – earmarked, among other things, for the purposes of a new, large-scale facility.

Having proved the efficacy of LUNAFORM – which is vegan, plastic-free, and created by micro-organisms through a fermentation process – the Turkey-based outfit is now looking to scale the material beyond its impressive, single-brand debut and into the fashion industry at large. Which, of course – providing the industry responds – can only be a good thing.

Inditex Signs a Three-Year Agreement to buy Ambercycle’s cycora®

As the parent company of Zara, Pull&Bear, Stradivarius and Bershka, Inditex is probably best known as Europe’s leading purveyor of bricks and mortar fast fashion. It’s not a great reputation to have and it’s an even harder one to shake – but it seems like the Spain-anchored group is giving it a shot.

With Zara having previously formed an unlikely partnership with Ananas Anam, using the company’s Piñatex leather alternative on a range of footwear and accessories, Inditex is technically no stranger to material innovation. But these dalliances have always been brief, one-off events.

This time, though, it seems that – with the full weight of the parent company – Inditex is taking a longer-term view of the situation, agreeing a three-year deal with the California-based materials science company Ambercycle, which will see the European corporation buy €70 million EUR of its textile-to-textile recycled polyester cycora®.

Now, this doesn’t instantly absolve Inditex of its fast fashion sins – but it is a start.

Erthos Secures $11.2 Million USD for Plant-Based Plastic

We know by now that plastic is the enemy. Between the fossil fuels burned to make it and the microplastics that it sheds into our water, our air, and which have even made their way into our blood, we know that plastic usage as it stands is unsustainable. Solutions, though, are a little harder to come by than the realization that we need them.

Erthos, however, might just have the answer. Or an answer, at least.

As Forbes notes: “Their proprietary plant-based resin acts as a one-to-one substitute for traditional plastic, and can be used in manufacturing the everyday products we have come to depend on – minus the harmful side effects.” A claim which, if scaled effectively, could see a way out of the forever-waste problem we’ve created. Having just closed an oversubscribed Series A funding round with $6.5 million USD Erthos now has the backing of $11.2 million USD to advance its plastic-free agenda – money that will be more useful now than ever, with the startup having received certifications that validate the plant-based resins as fully compostable and ready for wide-ranging use across 15 industries.

As far as the war on plastics goes, this really could be a gamechanger.

Jeanologia Debuts Air-Based Textile Technology

Creating products out of thin air feels like something of a pipe dream. Carbon capture firms and materials like CleanCloud have come close, but you can hardly call the emissions those companies collect anything like “air.” Of course, as good as it sounds, Jeanologia isn’t creating something from nothing, either – by the time the textile technology operator gets involved, the base product has already been created.

Nonetheless, the Valencia-based outfit is doing something special: in removing pumice, potassium permanganate, and other damaging substances from the process, Jeanologia is rewriting the book on how denim aesthetics are produced. Instead, its eco-washing solution – dubbed, “Washed by the Atmosphere” and rooted in G2 ozone technology – has the “potential to reduce water usage by 96%, eliminate the production of toxic by-products, and cut down energy consumption by up to 25%,” according to Just Style.

More than this, though, it also has applications beyond denim. The process can be applied to T-shirts, sweatshirts, and other garments that currently use similar color treatments to cultivate a certain look. It may not be spinning denim out of thin air, but – in reducing water usage, chemical deployment, and time spent on the energy-intensive process – it’s still serious progress.

Hyosung Launches New Creora Spandex

It’s not very often you hear the words “new and improved recipe” and expect good news. Usually, “new and improved” means something more like “different and worse.” Hyosung’s new formulation of Creora Spandex, however, manages to successfully buck that trend.

With the previous iteration of commercial-level Creora made from 30% renewable materials, this latest version ups the game significantly, with reports suggesting that “manufacturing 1 kilogram of Creora bio-based spandex generates 20 percent less carbon than producing the same volume of conventional spandex.”

Now, if you’re thinking this is a niche concern – that the era of spandex is long behind us – that isn’t quite the case. If you see Lycra or elastane on the materials list for a product, what you’re seeing is spandex. It’s regularly found in denim, in T-shirts, in dresses, and in a whole host of other everyday garments. In fact, global spandex consumption sits at around 800,000 tonnes per year. A number which doesn’t exactly scream “niche.”

Fair Harbor Launches New Shell-Based Wool Collection

Recycling waste from the Earth’s waters isn’t exactly a new concept. But, when we talk about marine waste, more often than not we’re talking about plastic. And, of course, that makes sense – there’s plenty of it and, most importantly, it just shouldn’t be there. Still, it’s not the only raw material waiting to be scooped up and turned into something more worthwhile.

And that’s why NY-based outfit Fair Harbor is picking up something more unusual – or, actually, something more commonplace – from our waters. Announcing the release of its new Seawool collection, Fair Harbor “crush[es] discarded oyster shells into powder and then add the pulverized particles to the polyester fabric made from recycled plastic bottles,” resulting in a hybrid of man-made and natural elements, creating what the brand calls “an incredibly soft material that feels just like merino wool but has the attributes of performance fabric.”

Renewcell Seeks Further (Further) Funding

Renewcell is having a rough time right now. As we mentioned in the recent FUTUREVVORLD newsletter, the Sweden-based material innovation company’s shares have fallen by almost 90% since its IPO in 2020 and even crashed by a dramatic 77% in just one week back in October. Now though – having raised considerable capital as a private firm and further capital through a direct share issue earlier this year – it seems that Renewcell is once again on the hunt for funding to stave off the effects of weak product uptake.

Referring back to the lower-than-expected sales previously reported for the third quarter, Renewcell adds that “sales volumes in November are [also] now expected to be lower than previously anticipated.” And, with this in mind, a statement from the company points to an impending strategic review and a search for further funding possibilities, noting that “such alternatives may include additional debt funding, equity injection through the form of a rights issue, equity injection through a directed issue targeted to a financial or strategic investor or other possible strategic transactions.”

It isn’t a great look for a company already in turmoil and makes for a starker fall from grace given it’s prior status as a trailblazer in the next-generation materials sector. As per usual, this will likely lead critics and commentators to extrapolate onto the wider industry, using the public company’s open books as a bellwether for the industry as a whole.

If this round-up is anything to go by, however, that just isn’t how this works.