An ever-greener tanningThe studies and tests of LifeTan continue, the European project aimed at replacing the chemical products currently used in tanning with natural substances
The recent EcoMondo – the main exhibition for the green and circular economy of the Euro-Mediterranean area, an international event that is held every year in November at the Rimini Expo and brings together all sectors of the green and circular economy in a single platform – was also attended by ENEA, the National Agency for new technologies, energy and sustainable economic development. The Agency was present as coordinator of the LifeTan project, which is specifically dedicated to tanning, among the 96 projects financed by the European Union as part of the “LIFE” environmental programme.
LifeTan, which has community funding of €500,000, was launched in June 2016 and aims to understand, within two years of its duration, how to replace – at certain leather processing stages (maceration, defatting, dyeing, fatting and tanning) – the chemical products and petroleum derivatives with natural substances obtained from animal waste or agro-industrial waste. Since 70% of the European tanning industry is located between Italy and Spain, the actors of LifeTan arrive from these countries: these two research centres (the CNR-ICCOM of Pisa and the Spanish INESCOP) for the analytical evaluations; and two tanneries (Italian Newport and the Iberian Tradelda) for the practical tests.
LifeTan builds on and integrates the positive results achieved in previous LIFE projects: BioNad, Ecodefatting, Podeba, Ecofatting and Oxatan, five studies each focusing on a particular processing stage. More specifically, “BioNad” has developed the “naturalisation” of dyes in an attempt to significantly reduce (90%) or, if possible, eliminate (100%) the amount of auxiliary chemical agents in leather dyes; “EcoDefatting” concentrated on replacing chemical products with products based on sugar by-products from the food industry during the defatting stage; “Podeba” studied the use of chicken droppings (recycled waste) in the maceration phase, so as to limit the presence of nitrogen in wastewater; “Ecofatting” promoted oil-based products able to replace the chlorosulphonates currently used in the fatting phase; and “Oxatan”, finally, used oxazolidine as an alternative tanning agent to trivalent chromium salts, allowing a metal-free process and reducing possible oxidation in hexavalent chromium.
In mid-October, shortly before the event in Rimini, INESCOP hosted the project partners at its headquarters of Elda (Alicante), which discussed the work carried out in the last six months and the ongoing actions for completion of the activities. This does not only have a technical impact: an environmentally sustainable production must also be economically viable for companies. Technical feasibility and economic sustainability move forward in stages: the objectives of the project were validated by means of pilot tests conducted at INESCOP before being transferred to the two partner tanneries on an industrial scale.