BLC Leather Technology

BLC Research Projects

BLC Research Projects

BLC is a leading independant leather technology centre.  BLC are leather experts and deliver a range of leather related services.  Established for over 90 years, we have the technical pedigree and experience in leather technology and leather research.

Please email info@blcleathertech.com for any of your leather research needs and requirements.

Below are a range of projects in which BLC has been involved:

Lipidiesel

This Eurostars project is now approaching mid-term and BLC have been involved in some very exciting developments in the production of diesel from waste tannery fats.  The initial small scale laboratory work and modelling yielded promising data and it has been possible to scale up the process for trials at a commercial plant.  The scale up was extremely successful and in terms of figures 1kg of refined waste fat yielded 0.99kg of diesel – an amazing conversion rate!  During this process a new production technique was developed and a patent has been applied for.

Clean Animals

This three year project sponsored by the Foods Standards Agency (formally MAFF) commenced in January 2000. The project aims to investigate bacterial contamination of cattle hides during the winter housing period and intervention measures to minimise both the risks of contamination and damage to subsequent leather. The overall project objectives were to determine the interaction of diet, transport, bedding and clipping on pathogenic bacteria and hide quality. Having established these, a best husbandry protocol for keeping cattle clean will be prepared and promoted.

Clean Tech

Funded by the DTI sponsored 'Sustainable Technologies Initiative', this is a 2 year project which aims to investigate the benefits of clean technologies for the leather industry. The project will investigate the benefits to combining all best available techniques for the production of bovine wet blue. The technologies investigated include low salt, high chemical uptake and reduced lime processes. The application of membrane filtration for the recycling of water has also been investigated. The study is underpinned by a Life Cycle Assessment of leather processing technologies. The project is also supported by UK tanner partners.

Aquatic Enzymes

BLC and two UK industrial partners are involved in a recently started EU funded project to investigate the application of enzyme technology for industrial processing. The project is co-ordinated by Fundacion Gaiker, the Spanish chemical/industrial research institute and has partners from 5 countries.
The main aims of this project are to improve commercial processes through the application of aquatic enzymes that function at low temperatures, that is below 10C. These processes are often carried out at these low temperatures due to technological reason that affect product quality, safety and avoid the spoilage of organic material discharge, chemical input and process time.
From the leather industry viewpoint, it is anticipated that the use of the enzyme will reduce the chemical inputs during the de-hairing stage without causing grain damage or residual hair root issues. In addition, the lower temperature range of the enzyme will allow the use of lower water temperatures and subsequent energy savings. www.gaiker.es/enzypro  

Chemical Penetration

This is a two year European funded project supported under the CRAFT initiative of Framework programme 5. The aim of the project is to develop an understanding of the factors that effect chemical penetration during the leathermaking process. This should lead to the development of at least 4 methods to improve the penetration of chemicals through the cross-section of the skin/hide and into the hierarchy of the skin's structure. Associated benefits will be more rapid processing and chemical and environmental savings. The research is being delivered by a collaboration of European Research Organisations and leather industry partners. 

TGA tanning

This is a four year project funded by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Biological Sciences Research Council under the Applied Biocatalysis programme. The project has investigated the application of transglutaminase enzymes for crosslinking collagen. The most significant deliverable from the project is the development of a novel patented dyeing process involving transglutaminase. Work concerning the optimisation of enzyme uptake has also been carried out. The work is currently in the industrial trial period.

IMI

The IMI LeatherWeb project is now in its 24th month, with one year remaining. The project supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council aims to pro-actively identify opportunities in the marketplace with regard to consumer expectations of leather performance. The information gathered is being used to develop a responsive research programme, which will ultimately give added value to the leather supply chain. The consortium comprises 19 companies involving all stakeholders in the leather supply chain and research priorities which have been addressed include the development of a thin, flexible finish, a study of the effect of leather cleaning materials on leather substrates and the application of powder coatings for leather finishing. www.allaboutleather.co.uk

Gasification

BLC has successfully secured competitive funding from the Department of Trade and Industry to design, build and operate a unique modular system comprising a gasification system and power generation module based upon a microturbine powered combined heat and power system. This project will build on a previous successful DTI funded application to demonstrate the use of downdraft gasification to treat leather waste. The conditioned gas will be passed to a micro turbine to supply heat and power over the course of the two year project period. The project will involve partners within the renewable energy supply chain and footwear and leather industries.

Amines

This project supported by the European Commission commenced in April 2002. The project was devised to further investigate the issues related to testing for the presence of banned amines in leather The aims of this project are to investigate the feasibility of developing a certified reference material that can be used by the leather industry and further develop the method for the testing of amines in leather. Within the project two methods will be developed. One method is intended to allow certification of the developed reference material and the other method will be developed for use during routine testing This work will ensure that the method is suitable for every day use in laboratories, minimising the use of expensive technology where possible.

Restorm

An important research project for the leather industry was launched in July 2002. The RESTORM project (Radical Environmentally Sustainable Tannery Operation by Resource Management) is a four year targeted research programme involving 18 partners and 3 subcontracted partners from 8 European Countries. The project supported by the European Commission under the Competitive and Sustainable Growth programme is worth 8.6 million Euros.
The aim of the RESTORM project is to conduct research directed at resource management, that will assist the tanning industry to change production methods to ensure a sustainable manufacturing industry for the future. In order to transform the leather industry into one that has a sustainable future, it is necessary to adopt radical and integrated approaches to changing the way in which resources are managed. To remain competitive in the global marketplace, European leather producers must move away from producing waste, which has high adverse environmental and cost implications, to a production regime where traditional 'waste products' are either reused/recycled or converted into new, higher value products. In addition, the consumption of resources will be minimised.
The strategy in RESTORM is to address the problems with short term solutions, to generate cost savings that will support more longer term solutions and the development of new industry. www.restorm.org

Mond

Supported by the European Commission, this desk-based project is as 2 year techno-economic study on renewable energy for the leather sector. Within the European leather sector selection criterion of renewable energy technology is random, and Renewable Energy Systems (RES) technology uptake is in its infancy. The leather industry is a prime target for renewable energy technology transfer, being one of the few sectors where decentralised RES technology can be easily applied as each tannery site produces more waste biomass than leather product. selection process for best practice and workshop / conference and interactive web site establishment for dissemination. The project will culminate in a conference in 2004 as a dissemination platform for the findings of the study. 

Microstat

This is a European supported CRAFT project investigating the microbial spoilage of hides and skins. The project is aimed specifically at developing an understanding of the mechanisms and kinetics of collagen degradation. This should result in the development of a method to eliminate or reduce bacteria on the skin to delay the spoilage process and improve product quality. The project will also study the effect of halophilic bacteria on hide and skin quality. The project involves the University of Nottingham and research and tannery partners from Europe.

Sebaceous Grease

This is a project supported by the Department of Trade and Industry investigating seasonal variation in unhairing efficiency during the production of bovine leather. The aim of the project is to investigate specifically the contribution of sebaceous grease to the unhairing process. Working with UK tannery partners, the project will evaluate the effectiveness of detergent and enzyme products for targeting/dispersing sebaceous grease as a pre-treatment to the unhairing process. Industrial trials are currently underway.

Pa-Tan-Tex

A short project focused on understanding the common needs of three important European sectors; leather, textiles and pulp and paper. This project concluded with a workshop to share research experiences and develop new projects and concepts for joint European funded projects with the sixth framework programme.

www.patantex.net

Bio-fuels

This is a new project supported by the Department of Trade and Industry (Renewable Energy Programme). The project is investigating the use of specialised bacteria to convert waste protein from the leather manufacturing process to a usable fuel.

TalloDiesel

This is a further project supported by the Department of Trade and Industry (Renewable Energy Programme) which will operate for two years. The project will focus on the novel conversion of lipid containing waste streams to diesel fuel.

Bioenhan

This is a follow on project from the previous LINK WMR3 project investigating biological water treatment and recovery. This three year project supported by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Biological Sciences Research Council will focus more specifically on the development of a new biological system for the treatment of recalcitrant components within tannery effluent. The project will be a collaboration between BLC, UK Universities and industrial partners.

Insectazyme

This is a small focused project investigating the feasibility of using non-animal and non-microbial enzymes for leather processing. The project sponsored by the Sustainable Technologies Initiative (DTI) involves the Natural History Museum and a UK Biotechnology company.

Hipermax

High Performance Industrial Protein Matrices Through Bio-processing. HIPERMAX is a three-year project, which involves BLC and 15 other European partners. The aim of the project is to develop novel enzymatic technologies for the production of high performance, economically viable protein matrices, which possess specific 'tailored properties'. This will then hopefully lead to enhanced bulk properties and surface characteristics for not only leather but also various other natural materials, such as cotton, wool, feather and silk.

The objectives of the project are to discover novel enzymes capable of modifying and grafting functional groups onto protein matrices thus generating knowledge on enzymatic reaction mechanisms at the molecular level. These model substrates will then be used to apply this knowledge to real substrates and more specifically materials such as wool, silk, leather and feathers, thereby producing novel tailored materials.

Sophied

Sustainable Bioprocesses for the European colour Industries.BLC is a partner in a four year EU-funded research project involving 27 partners. This large project (9.5 million Euro) aims to achieve the following objectives:

Oil Polymer

Intensified Integrated Oil/Water Separation and Produced Water Treatment
BLC is a partner in this project co-ordinated by the University of Newcastle. The project aims to combine a revolutionary demulsifier material with state of the art geochemistry and materials de-structuring to develop an intensified oil - water separation technique which would create a step change in drilling and separation technologies. Whilst the main focus of the research is in respect of sub-sea and topside crude oil production operations, the technology will also be rolled out into other industries such as leather.

The material being evaluated is known as PolyHIPE (Polymerised High Internal Phase Emulsions). Their potential applications in the leather industry include the following:

Metals Removal.
There is potential for the application of PolyHIPE to the removal of chromium from tannery effluent. Performance and cost will be measured against a conventional chromium recovery plant.

Gas Clean up
PolyHIPE has the potential for application to the clean up of gases generated during the gasification process. Specifically to ensure low levels of tar and particulates that are required for gas usage in other energy generating applications.

Emulsion Separation.
PolyHipe can also be applied to the clean up of grease containing effluent and the application to waste water from bovine processing is to be considered.

Scrubber effluent clean up.
There is also the potential to test the ability of PolyHIPE to clean up the wet scrubber effluent generated from the gasification process. Following initial trials, to assess the cleaning requirements, it is intended to build a suitable sized unit for a waste water clean up trial.

Dermagenesis

Growing Artificial Skin
BLC is a partner in a EU-Funded project aimed at developing ways of growing artificial skin that will be suitable for the tanning industry. The project is being co-ordinated by UNIC, the Italian Tanners' Association and includes 21 partners from 5 countries. This is an ambitious project to address the key issues for European tanneries of availability, quality and yield of raw material, as well as pollution prevention and control. The main objective of the project is to develop a new, cost effective bio-manufacturing process for the production of a smart, innovative product, tailored for the specific needs, initially of footwear manufacturers, to be used as a raw material by tanneries. This is aiming to achieve a material with a controlled biochemical composition, standard and consistent processes and a reduction in water consumption and pollution loads.

Epoxytan

This is a new three year DTI supported project aimed at developing a novel mineral free tanning system with good dimensional stability and hydrothermal stability. The project will exploit new chemistry developed by Loughborough University and will be tested by an industrial consortium of UK tanners.

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