Lightweight leather is good news for two industries in which every little counts

Netherlands
Published:  05 February, 2021

In applications like furniture and footwear, the weight of the leather used usually doesn’t matter that much. Unlike softness, which is influential, shaving off a few grams is less decisive to the performance and perception of a pair of shoes or a leather sofa.

That story changes when you look at the automotive industry. There, every gram saved reduces emissions, saves fuel and extends range. Weight saved in one area can be used to compensate for necessary weight-gains elsewhere, like adding safety features or more electronic systems.

This world of trade-offs and small but important gains is enabled by lighter metals, thinner glass, more use of plastics and now, lightweight automotive leather.

Marginal gains make a real difference for car makers
Stahl understands the importance of lightweight leather. The company offers a product range that enables tanners to produce high-quality lightweight leather, while reducing their environmental footprint. It’s called Stahlite® and it comprises several products that replace the ones traditionally used in retanning and fat-liquoring.

Does it work? The short answer is yes. The company calculated that compared with traditional leather, lightweight automotive leather delivers weight savings of 7 to 8 kg, or up to 30%, in a luxury car with a full leather interior. That is a potential saving of 0.4 to 0.5 g/km of CO2 and a useful gain when the EU emissions target for cars is 95 g/km in 2020.

Sustainability gains make a real difference for tanners
And that’s only half of the story, because while reducing the weight of a leather, the Stahlite® concept maintains the same luxurious, thick feel, softness, durability and long life-expectancy that automotive manufacturers and their customers expect of a leather interior. Leather made with the Stahlite® product range also shows the same stability and tear strength as standard leather. It also withstands the effects of heat and oxidation better than a traditionally retanned and fatliquored leather would. It is extremely low odour and low VOC, and being leather, it meets circular economy goals.

Switching to the Stahlite® range also benefits tanners and the environment. Firstly, Stahlite® leather can be produced in less time – the re-tanning running time can be shorted up to 40% in comparison with a traditional process, depending on the raw material applied and the final article. Secondly, along with fewer chemicals, it doesn’t require as much water or energy to produce, and it generates less wastewater. In concrete terms, the Stahlite® concept can deliver up to a 40-50% reduction in COD and a 60-70% reduction in BOD in like-for-like comparisons.

For two industries in which marginal gains are crucial, lightweight automotive leather looks like a welcome option in both the carmakers’ arsenal and that of the tanner.

*This article is an advertorial supplied by Stahl.