Automotive Interior Revolution: Sustainable Cork

From plastic to leather, solid wood, and even synthetic and plant-based products, automakers are constantly exploring the possibilities of interior materials.

Leather has long been used as a material for luxury car interiors and is still a “necessity” for many high-end models. However, in recent years, several car brands are vigorously promoting the development of leather alternatives, some brands have even or plan to completely abandon the use of leather materials.

Volvo announced that by 2030 the company will completely abandon the production of cars with animal leather, and instead use environmentally friendly, recyclable materials.
Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Land Rover, Bentley and several other car brands have long offered leather-free, eco-friendly interiors as an option.
Tesla has already abandoned leather as an interior option, and Rivian, another American car-making start-up, is about to launch its R1T pickup truck offering only vegan leather seats.

With animal protection and environmental protection concept deeply rooted in people’s minds, consumer mentality also changed, especially young consumers are not as favorable as in the past animal leather, a new consumer choice is quietly formed.
Cork is one of the rising stars in automotive interiors.

Table of Contents

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Learn about cork

Cork is a natural fiber from the cork oak tree, formed by the agglomeration of hexagonal cells that contain gases inside similar to air. The cells are covered with cork and lignin.
Cork is taken from the bark of the Portuguese cork oak tree and is a renewable resource because the tree is not cut down to collect cork, it is simply stripped of its bark to obtain cork, which will begin to regenerate and absorb more carbon dioxide. The cork oak tree has a lifespan of about 300 years, and the raw cork can be harvested repeatedly in cycles of 8 to 9 years, with more than a dozen bark strips from a single mature tree.

Cork Characteristics:

  • Renewable and sustainable
  • Excellent slip resistance
  • Non-toxic and chemical-free
  • Antibacterial and skin-friendly
  • Waterproof
  • Breathable
  • Sound-absorbing
  • Abrasion resistant
  • Flame retardant
  • Good cushioning

How Cork Is Eco-friendly

Cork oak forests absorb 14 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, helping to slow global warming and prevent land desertification. It helps to mitigate global warming, reduce soil erosion and regulate the water cycle.
Each cork absorbs an average of 112 grams of carbon dioxide.
Each ton of cork absorbs 1.83 tons of carbon dioxide
Making a plastic bottle stopper emits 10 times more CO2 than a cork.
The manufacture of aluminum screw caps emits 24 times more CO2 than cork.
Studies show that for every ton of cork produced, cork oak forests can sequester up to 73 tons of CO2, thus helping to reduce global warming potential.

Cork possibilities in automobiles.

Automotive interior components include: steering wheels, cabin partitions, inner door panels, instrument panels, airbag tops, seat armrests, carpet mats, inner door handles, cup holders, trim strips, headliners, sun visors, side window defrosters, utility bins and covers, sound-absorbing appendages, and other components.

Car-interiors
car interior decoration and accessories

Cork is commonly used in automobiles for:
1.Cork car interior trim
2. Cork sofa
3. Cork flooring
4. Cork door trim

Why Is Cork?

While people are pursuing the appearance and power of the car, they are also paying more and more attention to the design of the interior. The interior not only reflects the function of the interior space of the car, but also makes the passengers feel comfortable, easy to control, visually beautiful, healthy and safe, thus the interior has become an important battlefield for the competition of different brands of cars today.

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1. Sustainability

The automotive industry, as one of the largest industries in the world, is at the center of this effort. Road traffic is a major source of pollution, with cars and trucks accounting for nearly one-fifth of all U.S. emissions, and each gallon of gasoline emits about 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other global warming gases. About 5 pounds come from the extraction, production and delivery of fuel, while most of the heat emissions – more than 19 pounds per gallon – come directly from the exhaust of cars.
Overall, the U.S. transportation sector, including cars, trucks, planes, trains, ships and freight, produces nearly 30 percent of total U.S. global warming emissions, more than almost any other sector.

Portugal’s cork oaks – roughly one-third the size of Mediterranean cork oak forests – alone absorb 4.8 million tons of CO2 per year, which, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is equivalent to the emissions per 830,000 passenger cars/year.
In the conversion of one kilogram of cork, 50 kilograms of CO2 are absorbed from the atmosphere. The use of cork is one of the ways in which the greenhouse effect can be effectively mitigated.
Cork is one of the most sustainable and directly effective new environmental materials available.

cork-worker
Cork-weight

2. Lightweight

Lightweight has also become one of the important development directions of automotive interiors. There are two reasons for this: on the one hand, fuel consumption and emission regulations are becoming increasingly stringent, and lightweight is one of the important means of energy saving and emission reduction. According to industry statistics, it is estimated that if the weight of the car is reduced by 10%, it can save 6%-8% fuel, reduce fuel consumption by 0.3 liters-0.6 liters per 100 kilometers, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 5 grams-8 grams; on the other hand, the interior components of the car can be optimized through the structure, materials and other aspects to effectively reduce weight, which helps the whole car energy saving and emission reduction.

Cork is so light that it actually floats. There are about 40 million cells in each cubic centimeter of cork, all of which are filled with a mixture of gases similar to air. About 60% of the cork sheet consists of gaseous elements. This explains its extraordinary lightness. Cork weighs only 0.16 grams per cubic centimeter. Weight is an important indicator for car interiors and how cork has excellent physical advantages and is one of the materials of choice for designers.

3. Sound deadening & sound absorption

While many drivers prefer a noisy vehicle, many prefer a quiet environment that provides a noise-free, relaxing commute.
Road noise can affect your daily experience of driving a car, especially if it means you can’t even hold a conversation without raising your voice.
Generally, to reduce interior noise, in addition to hardware improvements, engineers are more likely to increase the development of interior foam wool and glass to reduce noise inside and outside the car, but this can significantly increase production costs.

Cork per cubic centimeter of cork contains nearly 40 million cells, can effectively absorb noise. Cork is an excellent noise-reducing agent. It doesn’t take much to get effective sound insulation with cork. According to findings, a 3/32-inch (only 3 mm) cork can block up to 10 decibels of sound. That’s why it’s often used in recording studios and theaters.
For car audio enthusiasts, it is simply a place for their souls to rest – let the outside world disturb me, I am in the car music and soul dialogue. In and out of the car without disturbing each other.

Car Soundproofing
cork-waterproof

4. Anti-static waterproof

As the automotive industry continues to accelerate the iteration, especially new energy electric vehicles, more and more high-precision electronic components in the car, along with the increased risk of failure, especially the center console, more human contact, the problem of generating static electricity is highlighted. In addition low-lying areas of the country, prone to car immersion events, resulting in electronic components ware scrapped.

For this, products made of cork help protect the equipment in the car. The antistatic surface of cork limits the opportunity for dust and toxin absorption, making it an excellent choice for people with allergies. Cork has natural anti-microbial properties that ensure great promise in worsening mold, mildew, termites and other harmful insect infestations.

In addition cork is waterproof. This material contains hundreds of thousands of cells per cubic centimeter, and these cells also contain cork, which is a natural fatty substance. Therefore, it has almost no water retention within the cell walls, perfectly explaining why cork has waterproof properties.
This ensures that your equipment is completely safe even in the harshest weather conditions, thanks to their moisture resistance and impermeability to liquids.

5. Odorless and non-toxic

Today, with the gradual increase in health awareness and the tightening of standards for evaluating toxic substances in cars, the issue of air quality in cars is receiving more and more attention.
However, in the past decade, the problem of odor in the car has been among the top ten automotive quality complaints, and consumers are paying more and more attention to the safety and environmental protection of car interior materials.
The problem of smell must be well known to everyone, and the “Audi cancer” incident has given the whole auto industry a wake-up call, and I am afraid that VOCs indicators will become the direction that car companies need to focus on breaking through.
In the “Audi cancer” incident, we recognize the vibration stop film, but in fact, more than these things trigger the VOCs indicators exceed the standard. For example, the car interior will use a variety of adhesives, such as wallpaper adhesives, carpet adhesives, sealants, plastic adhesives, etc.. They will release formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, xylene and other harmful substances.

Cork is also almost odorless. Products made with cork do not produce unpleasant odors, and even when carbonized, there is only a slight smell of burnt wood (more like coffee, I think). The lamination process is more dependent on the cork’s own lipid adhesion and environmentally friendly natural adhesives, which is almost harmless to humans. In addition, cork leather made into a comfortable and warm sofa, more importantly, does not emit the smell, and will not store the smell.

sew cork bag -3
touch-cork-fabric

6. Soft touch, anti-allergy

Contemporary consumers in addition to product performance appearance accident, at the same time will take into account the use of the product feeling, such as touch, smell, hearing, etc.. Compared with the sense of smell and hearing, the sense of touch is a more difficult to assess but really affects the use of the evaluation of the characteristics. In the general direction, the main influence on the sense of touch is the material and process, such as leather texture will feel better than ABS/PVC plastic, enamel process is better than injection molding process, the former more intimate feeling.
Have encountered a difficult to explain the situation – two products using the same material, the process is largely the same, but the tactile difference is very different. One feels very intimate to the touch, and the other is very cold. It is difficult to customize the standard.

However, cork, which consists of a large number of microscopic air cushions, is a very comfortable material, all thanks to the unique cellular structure with it, cork has a unique ability to absorb shock and relieve pressure on the joints and spine, and feels surprisingly soft to the touch, but more importantly: the natural temperature of cork is very similar to that of the human body, thus contributing to the feeling of comfort. In addition cork does not absorb dust, helping to prevent allergies.

7. Cushioning and impact resistance - enhance car safety

Interior parts are not only required to be comfortable and beautiful, but also to protect the safety of passengers. At present, many car companies use a lot of energy-absorbing elastic modified plastic and foam plastic to reduce the damage caused by collisions on the human body and improve safety.

In this regard, due to the honeycomb structure of cork makes it able to resist possible by friction, impact or wear. When subjected to external pressure, the gaps in the cells within the cork narrow and the internal pressure rises; when pressure is lost, the pressure within the cells, in the gaps, restores the cells to their original form, which is what we feel as the elasticity of cork; the resistance of the material stems from this compressibility and elasticity – it is the only material that can be compressed on one side while maintaining on the other its original format.
Therefore, it is ideal for use as an interior accessory to effectively improve safety.

Have encountered a difficult to explain the situation – two products using the same material, the process is largely the same, but the tactile difference is very different. One feels very intimate to the touch, and the other is very cold. It is difficult to customize the standard.

However, cork, which consists of a large number of microscopic air cushions, is a very comfortable material, all thanks to the unique cellular structure with it, cork has a unique ability to absorb shock and relieve pressure on the joints and spine, and feels surprisingly soft to the touch, but more importantly: the natural temperature of cork is very similar to that of the human body, thus contributing to the feeling of comfort. In addition cork does not absorb dust, helping to prevent allergies.

cork cells
Cork-Flame-retardant

8. Flame retardant

Cork and has a good flame retardant; 700 degrees acetylene flame burned for three hours, and no harmful gas release, to reach the B2 level of fire resistance, with fire retardant characteristics.
In case of an unlucky encounter with an accident, cork material can effectively slow down the burning time and greatly improve the escape time.

With the rise of sustainability, consumers are increasingly skeptical of brands’ green claims, which makes it difficult to decipher their true environmental impact. Consumers want automakers to be transparent about how their inventions impact the planet and continue to look for new ways to produce greener designs. Some car companies are investing in research into new materials that will bring us closer to zero-emission vehicles. Designs that combine this new vision of luxury with smart sustainable design will stand out.
HZCORK is already working with several Chinese, American, German and Japanese automotive companies and auto parts companies to explore more possibilities for cork in cars and to accelerate the process of a sustainable automotive revolution.

Automotive case

Cork has been used in cars more than 10 years ago, but at that time it was not widely popular due to various problems. As the times advance, I believe that cork will soon wow the automotive industry.
Below I list some of the more representative cars that use cork.

1. Mercedes Benz - F700

The F700 debuted at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show and represents Mercedes-Benz’s proposal for a futuristic and eco-friendly luxury sedan.
With its F 700 study car, Mercedes-Benz redefines the concept of relaxed, superior refinement: this concept of the future luxury touring car shows how superior ride quality can be combined with a high level of environmental friendliness, good performance and extremely low fuel consumption.
The balance and harmony of the color scheme is the result of a combination of brown leather, matching Alcantara and open-cell cork for the door linings, roof lining or center console, which runs all the way through the interior. The seats are upholstered in beige leather with matching Alcantara in the middle section. painted aluminum can be found on all operating panels and SERVO-HMI.

2. Porsche Taycan 4 Cross Turismo

Porsche collaborated with designer and influencer Sean Wotherspoon to create a colorful car with the same theme. Based on the Porsche Taycan 4 Cross Turismo, the car draws inspiration from the Harlequin model while taking the concept up a notch, even borrowing the theme for the interior.

A vegetarian, Wotherspoon wanted to make sure the car’s interior was leather-free, so he used corduroy (a material already used on the 911 Targa Heritage Edition) and cork (material taken from cork oak bark) on the roof lining, seats and sun visors, as well as on the dashboard, pillars, center console, steering wheel and carpets.

I’ve always referred to the cork elements around the windows as “trees,” according to Wotherspoon. When you’re in this car, you really feel like you’re sitting in nature. You have the green carpet that represents grass, and then you look up and see the Atacama beige corduroy roof lining. You also have the cork dashboard and steering wheel, which feels rustic. I love being in a car and having that feeling about the natural environment around me. I’ve never had that experience in a car before, so it feels really good to know that we made that happen.

3. Mazda MX-30

Cork isn’t the kind of material you’d find in a luxury car, let alone a production crossover. But Mazda is different, as the company has included cork in the interior of the MX-30 crossover. This material is obtained from tree bark without having to cut down trees, reflecting the brand’s environmental consciousness.
The MX-30 is the first all-electric model from Mazda to feature this cork trim in some areas of the center console, courtesy of Uchiyama Manufacturing Corp. of Hiroshima, Japan. In fact, it is interesting to note that Mazda’s predecessor was Toyo Cork Industries, Ltd. and today’s Mazda cannot help but be associated with cork again.

4. MINI STRIP

The MINI STRIP, a new model officially launched by MINI in association with British fashion designer Paul Smith, has been designed with all the clever details in a minimalist form. Simplicity, transparency and sustainability form the central themes of the design process. The trim panel above the center console and the interior panels on the upper part of the doors are made of recycled cork, which contains no synthetic adhesives and is fully recyclable.
In an interview with Oliver Heilmer, design director of the MINI brand, he said: “In the future we will no longer need leather interiors because we don’t think that’s sustainable. We also believe that even without leather, we can create a modern and high-value product”

5. Fiat Fiat 500 Spiaggina

Decorated in two shades of sky blue and pearl white, this Spiaggina is usually summer, without a roof like the original and without rear seats, as it now has a compartment decorated with cork and an integrated shower, probably designed to remove the sand after a day at the beach.
The model pays homage to the nautical world, such as the low windshield (almost non-existent) or the cork design that covers the rear with a pattern that mimics the teak-floored boats used on the deck, yachts. It also features a white anti-roll bar covering the headrest.

6. Peugeot 208 Natural

Peugeot 208 Natural is a 100% Brazilian-sourced car with a cork roof and dashboard. The materials chosen ensure better thermal and acoustic insulation. Peugeot Brazil presented the vehicle at the São Paulo International Motor Show in October 2014 and November 2014, and it is distinguished by the use of sustainable raw materials such as cork. amorim Cork Composites was one of the partners in the project, which also involved Embraer Brazil.

With the rise of sustainability, consumers are increasingly skeptical of brands’ green claims, which makes it difficult to decipher their true environmental impact. Consumers want automakers to be transparent about how their inventions impact the planet and continue to look for new ways to produce greener designs. Some car companies are investing in research into new materials that will bring us closer to zero-emission vehicles. Designs that combine this new vision of luxury with smart sustainable design will stand out.
HZCORK is already working with several Chinese, American, German, and Japanese automotive companies to explore more possibilities for cork in cars and to accelerate the process of a sustainable automotive revolution.

Based on the many outstanding properties of cork, the cork can be made into cork fabrics, cork sports products, cork bags, etc., which are considered one of the best alternatives to leather.

Choose the right cork products to promote your low carbon sustainable project.

Natural Cork Leather

Colored Cokr Fabric

Cork Yoga Products

Cork Bag

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Automotive Interior Revolution: Sustainable Cork

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