Reducing The Environmental Impact Of Leather Production

Researchers in India have used molten salt to treat leather and reduce its pollution profile.

AsianScientist (Sep. 19, 2017) – A team of researchers in India have developed a more eco-friendly method of processing leather. Their findings have been reported in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

From handbags and jackets to car interiors, leather products are almost everywhere. According to Rolls Royce, it takes 12 cow hides to upholster the interior of one of their automobiles. The journey from cow to a leather seat is a long one, involving many steps. One of the more well-known steps is called tanning, but before that can even happen, hair must be removed from the hides, and the fibers must be ‘opened’ up or swollen.

These processes create a lot of potentially harmful pollution. Currently, manufacturers use lime and sodium sulfide, but this produces sludge waste and toxic gas, and requires ammonium salts to remove the lime.

Ionic liquids are molten salts at room temperature and are not very volatile, making them attractive alternatives to harsh substances. These liquids have been investigated for use in leather-making, but they’ve only been applied to a single process. Researchers from the CSIR-Central Leather Research Institute wanted to see whether they could completely eliminate the need for lime and sodium sulfide by using ionic liquids in both the hair removal and fiber opening steps.

The team performed three different treatments on goat skins. For the control, the researchers used traditional methods. The second set of skins was processed with a hybrid method (called E1) that involved an enzyme for hair removal and lime for opening fibers. The third treatment (called E2) involved the enzyme and an ionic liquid for hair removal, then the ionic liquid again for fiber opening.

The ionic-liquid-treated skins weren’t quite as strong as the control after tanning, but they had the right coloration and appearance. The E2 treatment eliminated the use of lime, sodium sulfide and ammonium salts, and it reduced pollution output and treatment time.

The article can be found at: Alla et al. (2017) Integrated Depilation and Fiber Opening Using Aqueous Solution of Ionic Liquid for Leather Processing.


Source: American Chemical Society; Photo: Pexels.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

Related Stories from Asian Scientist