Material of the Day: Alcantara By Mingzhou xu

My material of the day is Alcantara. Alcantara is a material developed in the early 1970s by Miyoshi Okamoto, a scientist working for the japanese chemical company Toray industries. It's primarily used in the design, fashion, luxury cars, and furnitures because it's soft, comfortable, light, strong, durable and elegant.

My introduction to Alcantara happened in few years ago, the first time I bought a shoes from Christian Louboutin. After a month of wearing, I found the defference between common leather and Alcantara, and I started to get interested in Alcantara.

What is Alcantara?

Alcantara is a man made material composed of about 68% polyester and 32% polyurethane. The process of how it made is Alcantara SPA's secret. Alcantara is basically ultrasuede which composed of 80% polyester and 20% polyurethane. The fundamental difference between them is that alcantara is made in Italy and ultrasuede is made in Japan. However, most of the luxury cars use alcantara for their interior not only because it has a fancier name and a more automotive-luxury-seeming country of origin but also because alcantara has a better performance than ultrasuede.

Alcantara's structure of polyurethane and polyester
Fibers for Alcantara and Ultrasuede (http://jalopnik.com/what-the-hell-is-alacantara-anyway-1604799947)

Structure and Composition of Alcantara

Alcantara is essentially made from really, really small fibers. The fibers are so small that a pound of them would be enough to span the distance from the earth to the moon.

Alcantara is composed of about 68% polyester and 32% polyurethane, giving increased durability and stain resistance. The appearance and tactile feel of the material is similar to that of suede.

Mechanical Properties of Alcantara

There are lots of mechanical properties of alcantara. The focus here will be on light, durable, strong, and fire retardancy.

(1) Alcantara is light:

Alcantara is very thin, the thickness is from 0.4 mm to maximum 1.2 mm. It used to cover the seats and steering wheel for automotive area. The density of alcantara is about 1.5 times heavier than paper, and also less than 1/3 the weight of genuine leather, which is about 0.0401 lb/in^3.

(2) Alcantara is durable:

As my personal experience, the shoes made of alcantara don't have any deflection after walking a long time. However, the leather shoes will have wrinkles aftering walking.

Alcantara also meets or exceeds industry standards for durability, crocking, pilling, shrinking and fading.

(3) Alcantara is strong:

Alcantara is a very unique material. Although it's very light, it's still very strong. Because the fibers are small and compact. It's hard to broke alcantara's structure. Thus, alcantara has high resistance to wear and tear and incredible ease of maintenance.

(4) Alcantara has fire retardancy:

Alcantara burns very slow because the melting temperature of polyster and polyurethane are very high. Polyster at 250 degree and polyurethane at 260.5 degree.

Conclusion

Alcantara is lightweight and contains no animal products. It eliminates the need for potentially leather products for long time care and makes Alcantara safe for the environment. Also, Alcantara is 100% carbon neutral, it's easy to recognize and it's a place of contemporary living.

Reference

Alcantara material: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcantara_(material)

Alcantara's mechanical properties: http://www.augerresources.com/materials.php#alcantara

Alcantara online website: http://www.alcantara.com/zh/index.do

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