Attending trade fairs and seminars in the last 3-4 years it occurs to me that there are two classes of presentations. Firstly, there those from the international chemical sector, with slick presentations and a re-packaging of existing products or a collection of tricks to meet the ever expanding RSL demands (chromium VI scavengers, formaldehyde free materials, phthalate free materials etc). Secondly the few remaining leather research centres and universities that do fundamental work and are government funded are recycling old ideas and presenting material of such industrial remoteness that they are never likely to move from research to production.

So what do we want? What should the tannery be asking for? These may be hard but they are needed for the future. My top three new products would be:

  • Sulphide replacement for unhairing – Top of my list. Every year there are deaths in the tanning sector from hydrogen sulphide poisoning. The biggest contributor to tannery odour is hydrogen sulphide. We need an alternative. Partial replacement with enzymes is a part replacement but certainly not new.
  • A replacement for chromium. There is a chance that in the medium term pressure groups will succeed and that finally chromium III tanning will be outlawed. There is no particular reason for this to occur but it may happen. There are wet-white options but these will not easily fit into the leather for footwear business and a “chrome-like” material is required for basic tanning.
  • A fast black dye. 50% of the world’s leather is still dyed black and for this we use traditional dyes. The requirement is to find something that dyes leather black but has better wet and dry rub fastness.

In recent times I have not seen any indication that these issues are still on R&D agendas, that is assuming R&D agenda’s still exist in today’s tough world.

The Toggler