As buyers become more eco-conscious, they’re switching buying behaviors, opting for up-cycled and recycled materials more and more. Many industries are latching onto the trend and designing products out of recycled cloth, PET bottles, and rubber. Ford has been one of the leaders in this movement, showing off its tomato-infused trunk and soy-filled seats half a decade ago.
Audi is getting in on the game and signaling that the innovation is part of the company’s larger corporate strategy of sustainability.
Audi hopes to include recycled material in all its seats soon.Photo courtesy of Audi AG
Seat upholstery in the fourth-generation Audi A3 is made from secondary raw materials. Up to 89 percent of the textile used consists of recycled PET bottles.
According to Audi, here’s how the process works:
The bottle disappears in the hole of the reverse vending machine, and the customer in Germany gets €0.25. But what happens then? While still in the shop, the disposable bottles are compressed for truck transport in order to save space. Once they have arrived at the recycling plant, they are sorted by color, size and quality. Foreign matter such as the caps are separated. A mill then crushes the bottles into flakes, which are washed, dried and melted down. Nozzles shape continuous plastic strands out of the mass. Once they have dried, a machine chops them into small pieces. This results in granulate, otherwise known as recyclate, and this undergoes extrusion to create threads. Wound onto coils, these are used in the final stage to manufacture materials.
The material from up to 45 PET bottles ends up in as part of a seating system. Additionally, 62 PET bottles per vehicle are recycled and used for the A3’s carpeting.
Why is just 89 percent of the seat made up of recycled material? “The lower layer of woven material, which is connected to the upper material with adhesive, is what poses the challenge. We are working on replacing this with recyclable polyester,” says Ute Grönheim, who is in charge of material development in the textiles division at Audi. “It is our goal to make the seat upholstery completely from unmixed material so that it can be recycled again. We are no longer very far away from this.”
Audi is using secondary raw materials in other parts of the vehicle as well including the side panel trims of the luggage compartment, the loading floor, and the mats. The company has set the goal of making all seat upholstery material, across all model series, from recycled material.