Premium materials that dreams are made of
5:00 AM | May 30 2018

Premium materials that dreams are made of

Inspired by the thought’ processes of Volvo’s designers, I Roll takes a look at the strangest, most remarkable materials being created right now, such as bacteria-infused trainers, spider-silk jackets, and photocatalytic paint.

“We wanted to take the Volvo brand forwards, using materials that feel unexpected, but are also really well executed. And we wanted our customers to feel, ‘Oh, this is a bit different, I love it!’”
 
Volvo Colour and Materials Designer Erik Åleby (pictured above) is explaining the Swedish car maker’s ambition to create something that wasn’t just a little brother to the XC90 and XC60 SUVs ­– the XC40 that needed to be every inch a Volvo car, reflecting the company’s heritage, yet a distinctive Volvo with its own individual form of expression.
The result is an interior featuring an inspired and unique selection of materials, such as the recycled polyester felt of the carpets and inserts, and Oxide Red leather accents that mimics the distinctive deep red hue of traditional Swedish cottages.
 
Any new material used in a Volvo car has to exhibit – as Erik says – a “high degree of functionality and cutting-edge design”. It also helps if it’s sustainable, and the most interesting sources of inspiration come from nature.
 
But it’s not just the designers at Volvo Cars who are working with these kinds of influences. They’re where material science is heading in general.
 
Graphene: Pencil-lead Building Blocks
This so-called miracle material is essentially a single layer of carbon that’s incredibly thin (just one atom thick), just about transparent, and yet extremely strong – about 200 times stronger than the strongest steel. It’s also very conductive, magnetic and weirdly good at absorbing light. But, because it’s so thin and hard to produce, it hasn’t proven itself to be all that useful in practical terms – until now.
 
In 2017, a group of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were inspired by the natural world – such as the structures of sponges and corals – to create a new material where 2D graphene is used to make a 3D sponge-like structure that’s incredibly light but still several times stronger than steel.
 
Synthetic Spider Silk: A New Spin on Outdoor Clothing
Don’t fret if you suffer from arachnophobia. This is an entirely new product made from specially engineered synthetic proteins.
 
However, it displays all the properties of actual web-spinning spider silk – it’s remarkably strong, resilient and stretchy. This makes it perfect for rough weather and strenuous activity, which is why outdoor clothing company The North Face partnered with synthetic silk manufacturer Spiber to use the miracle thread for a gold version of its Moon Parka.
 
Erik also highlights the fully recyclable sports shoe made by Adidas using the same kind of material as a “very inspiring product”.
 
Photocatalytic Paint: Wall Power
This is another new material developed with next-level sustainability in mind. As well as looking smart on your walls, this paint absorbs water vapour from the air, and then splits it – creating hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be harvested and used as energy to power fuel cells and combustion engines.
 
Researchers at Australia’s own RMIT University in Melbourne envision the paint as something that can help power the cities of the future – making energy from water without actually having to take anything from the main supply.
 
Bacteria-infused Trainers: The End of Smelly Gym Trainers?
Scientists at MIT have developed a fabric that’s been impregnated with a safe form of E coli bacteria. They then used this fabric to make a training shoe. However, instead of producing energy, this material starts to glow when it gets damp. In other words, if you’re out for a run at night, your trainers will light up as your feet get sweaty.
 
This is a remarkable development. The researchers are using it to explore how bacteria in material can be “programmed” to respond in certain ways, depending on the situation. They’re starting small, though. The next step, according to the people who made these trainers, is to get the bacteria to emit a pleasant smell, thus solving the problem of stinky gym shoes forever.
 
Erik and his team believe that, in the future, they will rely on a “synergy of classic luxurious materials, with a combination of smart technical solutions and materials” in their work. It’s hard to predict how this will take shape exactly, but “lightweight materials, vegan alternatives to leather, more organic materials, alternatives to plastic and non-animal bioplastic” are all touted as current possibilities.

The research and development of such materials is important for Volvo Cars as well as the world in general, believes Erik.
 
“Our dream is that, in the future, we won’t actually need to talk about sustainability in materials. It will be a given.”with a safe form of E coli bacteria. They then used this fabric to make a training shoe. However, instead of producing energy, this material starts to glow when it gets damp. In other words, if you’re out for a run at night, your trainers will light up as your feet get sweaty.
 
This is a remarkable development. The researchers are using it to explore how bacteria in material can be “programmed” to respond in certain ways, depending on the situation. They’re starting small, though. The next step, according to the people who made these trainers, is to get the bacteria to emit a pleasant smell, thus solving the problem of stinky gym shoes forever.
 
Erik and his team believe that, in the future, they will rely on a “synergy of classic luxurious materials, with a combination of smart technical solutions and materials” in their work. It’s hard to predict how this will take shape exactly, but “lightweight materials, vegan alternatives to leather, more organic materials, alternatives to plastic and non-animal bioplastic” are all touted as current possibilities.
 
The research and development of such materials is important for Volvo Cars as well as the world in general, believes Erik.
 
“Our dream is that, in the future, we won’t actually need to talk about sustainability in materials. It will be a given.”

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