The great and the good – the 120th SLTC international conference11 May 2017
The Society of Leather Technologists and Chemists (SLTC) held its 120th international conference in April at the University of Northampton. Leather International reports on a successful gathering, at which the topics for discussion included lab-grown materials, the benefits of collagen and some novel uses of fishskin in Kenya.
SLTC’s 120th international conference was on a suitably grand scale (88 attended and 136 came for the gala dinner), but it was the occasion of the day that resonated most.
“It was the best [conference] for some time,” said Leather Naturally’s Mike Redwood, who also spoke with Modern Meadow’s chief technology officer, Dave Williamson, about the future of leather materials.
Modern Meadow presented its breakthrough, lab-grown leather technology and R&D plans at this conference several years ago. The purpose of this dialogue, however, was to give updates on how those plans were developing, and to engage with SLTC members and guests about various modes to market created by such a revolutionary bio-based material made from molecular-sized building blocks.
To celebrate the centenary of the Journal of the Society of Leather Technologists & Chemists (JSLTC), professor AD Covington, emeritus professor of leather science at the University of Northampton’s Institute for Creative Leather Technologies, spoke about how relations between the UK and German leather sectors became strained during the First World War to the point where the UK broke from the International Association of Leather Trades Chemists in 1917 and founded its own separate society, which, in turn, created the JSLTC.
Here comes the science bit
Dr Michael Meyer from the Research Institute Leather and Plastic Sheeting (FILK) gave his keynote speech on collagen research and how it has benefitted mankind throughout the ages. As the main structural protein in the animal kingdom, the substance has been used prolifically for thousands of years in the manufacturing of many things, including leather. Today, 28 different types of collagen are known: they differ in their sequences and are arranged not only as fibres but also as network or bead-like structures that must, however, have a fibrous component. Currently, the biomedical use of collagen is an important field of research, caused by its excellent cyto/biocompatibility, which is still unmatched by synthetic polymers.
Dr Elton Hurlow, leather division manager at Buckman, spoke about managing microorganisms in a landscape of increasing regulation and restriction. Microbicides are needed to preserve raw materials and in-process leathers from damage, yet they’re necessarily hazardous chemicals. Therefore, governments regulate them, and some consumer organisations and brands try to restrict their use. Hurlow mapped some of these trends, focusing on the European industry and global brand limits. He also reviewed what was available in the leather industry and made recommendations regarding what tanners needed to do to ensure the products they used were compliant, and that their business interests were not encroached by unreasonable or unworkable market demands.
Julian Osgood from ATC Tannery Chemicals focused on pickle-free chrome tanning as a means of improving the global image of leather production using new technology and new methods, while still delivering the standards that consumers demand. One of the major problems with chrome tanning is the chrome that remains unattached to the leather remains in the final bath that makes its way to effluent treatment plants. There are huge costs in time and money involved with ensuring that chrome is removed from effluent and that nothing gets back into the environment
While working on this problem, ATC has developed a process that enables tanners to use considerably less chrome in their processes than normal, while improving the uptake of chrome into the leather and reducing the amount left in the final liquor. The less chrome powder used and the better the uptake on to the leather, the less chrome there will be in the effluent treatment plant. On top of these commercially interesting advantages, this process is up to six hours faster, and can be run without salt, sulphuric acid, formic acid and magnesium oxide.
Economy of scale
Arthur Onyuka from the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI) gave a fascinating talk on value addition on fishskin as a byproduct for economic and business opportunities in Kenya. He described how the Nile perch, found in Lake Victoria, was the most dominant in the fisheries subsector and generated significant amounts of revenue, as well as creating employment opportunities along the value chain. Due to low investment and weak linkages in research, however, the fish processing industry generates large volumes of byproducts currently discarded as waste.
KIRDI, therefore, was exploring ways of using the skins as a source of raw material for tanning and value-added leather products, and also as a means of providing employment to low-income groups.
Currently, small-scale entrepreneurs successfully export Nile perch leather and leather products to European and US markets, ensuring sustainable and profitable use of this valuable resource.