Leather Alternatives

Researchers Develop Plastic-Free Pineapple-Based Leather Alternative With Higher Strength Than PU

Scientists at Thailand’s Mahidol University have developed a new pineapple-based leather alternative that is claimed to have excellent strength and sustainability properties.

The bio-based material is made by mechanically extracting pineapple leaf fibers from waste pineapple leaves. These fibers are divided into two groups; some are treated with sodium hydroxide, while others are left untreated. The fibers then are formed into non-woven sheets and coated with compounded natural rubber latex, before being heat-treated and compressed. The material can be dyed with natural colorings such as carrot, spent Thai red tea, and spent coffee grounds.

Following the development of the pineapple leather, a study published in the journal Sustainability has analyzed its tensile properties, tear strength, and hardness. The results indicate that the material’s tensile strength does not differ significantly from cowhide leather and outperforms many animal-free leather alternatives, including PU and fungi-based materials.

The study also tested the optimal ratio of pineapple leaf fibers to natural rubber, finding that leather alternatives made with a 50:50 ratio were the most satisfactory. The variant made with treated fibers had the best properties, as it was softer and had greater extension at break. Adding an adhesion promoter significantly improved the material’s stress-strain curves.

Credit: Sustainability (2023). DOI: 10.3390/su152115400

“Sustainable and economically viable”

This is not the first leather alternative made using upcycled fruit byproducts; there are already materials on the market made from apple, pineapple, and banana waste. However, many of these materials are not fully biodegradable, containing small quantities of synthetic additives. In contrast, Mahidol University’s pineapple leather is entirely bio-based and plastic-free.

A report published in 2022 indicated that the global market for bio-based leather alternatives would grow with a huge CAGR of 47.5% over the forecast period 2021-2027. Concerns over the environmental impact of conventional leather are the main driver, with the increasing adoption of leather alternatives by automotive manufacturers presenting a fast-growing opportunity.

“This research showcases a sustainable and economically viable alternative to traditional leather, with the potential to revolutionize the leather industry and contribute to a more environmentally friendly future,” says the Mahidol University study.

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