Cleveland Química do Brasil SA, Greater Porto Alegre, southern Brazil, have always been aware of environmental matters and since their foundation in 1977, have been relentlessly seeking solutions by developing their own technology.

Cleveland’s latest launch is geared to the leather sector and is called Bioflex, an auxiliary for the tanning process. Research, studies and tests, which took five years to complete with the collaboration of the Footwear Technology Centre, SENAI, of Estância Velha/RS, have led to the launch of a product which considerably reduces and, in some cases, even eliminates the need for chrome and other chemicals commonly used in the tanning process. In the case of sheepskin processing it also shortens processing times.

What is Bioflex?

It is a natural and easily bio-degradable solution of carboxylic acids and propionate derivatives, whose main purpose is to make the processing of all sorts of hides and skins easier, all the way from the beamhouse to dyeing.

The producers of Bioflex claim it to be an auxiliary agent which is changing the conventional tanning processes by rationalising its various stages, reducing processing times and reducing, if not completely eliminating, the use of chemicals which are hazardous to the environment. At the same time, it produces high quality leather as far as softness and touch are concerned. A major advantage of Bioflex is its alleged characteristic of not causing corrosion on metal accessories such as eyelets, buckles etc, due to the absence of components which attack metal.

The results of the thorough tests done by CT-Couro/Senai, Estância Velha/RS, show that Bioflex achieves:

* Shorter pickle times (30 minutes instead of 4 or 5 hours)

* Better conditioned hides and skins prior to the tanning process

* Elimination of gases and other unpleasant odours released during deliming

* Elimination of the use of formic and sulfuric acids

* Up to 40% reduction in the use of chrome salts if compared with the currently used processes

* Reduction in the use of basifying products

* Processing times of 10 to 15 hours for bovine hides and pigskins and in five to seven hours for sheepskins

* Increased colour intensity resulting from dyeing operations

* Overall reduction of up to 40% in total soaking to dyeing operation times

* Possibility of recycling the water used in the tanning process with just small adaptations

The technical reports on Bioflex are available to anyone interested in inspecting them.

Advantages for the environment

* The contents of ammoniacal nitrogen present in the deliming and purge operation waste may be 160 times lower than that generated during the conventional process;

* The absence of or low concentration of chrome salts in the tanning baths allow for effluent recycling and makes it possible to use sludge as an organic fertiliser.

In order to evaluate the advantages of Bioflex, let us have a look at some of the reasons why environment-friendly technologies must be urgently adopted:

Let us take the Brazilian tanning industry as an example: the country is constantly seeking clean technologies and for that reason it has recently founded its Institute of the Environment whose mission is to help the tanners produce a cleaner product.

Brazil currently processes 35 million bovine hides, sheepskins, pigskins and exotic skins per year, and statistics show that processing that huge quantity of raw material generates large volumes of waste that require disposal. Most goes to landfill and land is becoming scarcer due to Brazil’s ever burgeoning population.

As a result, it becomes more urgent to develop products, methods and processes which reduce environmental and public health problems caused by industrial waste.

Practical application of Bioflex in a Brazilian tannery

Bioflex has been fully adopted by Curtume Caxiense, of Ana Rech, Caxias do Sul/RS, who process sheepskins. According to the tannery’s director, José Martini, the benefits of the new product are not limited to preventing harm to the environment. ‘Bioflex shortens sheepskin processing times from 48 hours to five, improves the quality of the final product and leaves less residue on the skin than chrome does.’

FEPAM – the state organisation for environmental control – supports the work developed by Cleveland and Curtume Caxiense, and ‘praises all efforts intended to reduce the negative impact imposed by certain chemicals on the environment’.

Cleveland do Brasil S/A have a technical team ready to help and advise companies willing to use their products. Manoel Augusto Gargantini, the company’s director, said that he is very satisfied by the launch of Bioflex: ‘We have received calls from tanneries from all over the world wanting to know more and interest grows every day. Everything shows that we are dealing with a matter of global proportions here and that shows the merits of the product.’