The second IULTCS Eurocongress took place in Istanbul, Türkiye, in the last week of May and was a testament to skilful management and generous hospitality. If Detek, the Turkish association responsible for organising the conference, viewed the event as a practice run before the IULTCS Congress due to take place there in 2013, they more than succeeded. It was much appreciated that the organisers did their best to keep speakers to their allotted timetable (this was not always easy) and another notable achievement was that all the presentations were given in English.

An International Leather Forum was proposed by the president Marc Folachier who said that there are solutions in existence for many of the problems encountered by the leather industry but the cost of applying them means that they are unlikely to be used. An international forum could pool resources and knowledge and be of enormous help to the industry.

One of the livelier presentations was that of Dr Jens Fennen, TFL, who managed to capture his audience with the equivalent of a magic show. Solar reflective leather was the topic and Fennen came equipped with a pair of black shoes and a pair of black gloves, in each case with one of the pair made from standard leather and the other from solar reflective leather. An infrared light completed his equipment and when applied to samples in a darkened room was absorbed by the standard black as would be expected. However, the solar reflective properties of the other bounced the light back and showed one shoe and one glove as white. It was a very effective display.

Katia Padoan, Thor Specialties, Italy, explained the need for a new generation of fungicides which arises from the Biocidal Products Directive which means to establish a positive list of active substances and a National authorisation of Biocidal Products containing active substances which form part of the positive list. There are three other pieces of relevant EU legislation which play their part in increased interest: the Dangerous Substances Directive; the Dangerous Preparations Directive and the Limitations Directive.

The idea of creating energy from waste obviously has its attractions. Conversion of leather industry fleshings to biodiesel was the subject of a Turkish paper and lipase alcoholysis of triglycerides to produce tallodiesel as a transport fuel was a British visual display theme.

The traditional Heidemann Lecture was presented by Dr M Lange who chose to detail the life of the great man. Professor Dr Eckhart Heidemann was born in 1925 and finished studying to be a leather technician in 1950. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1952 and his master’s in 1954. His thesis for his doctorate was completed in 1957, entitled: The behaviour of collagen in diluted acid and caustic, and he took the decision to follow an academic career, becoming a university lecturer in 1964. As an author and co-author, he published more than 200 articles. He also acted as editor of Das Leder from 1965 until 1997 when the journal was merged with Leder und Häute Markt. He further wrote a classic book for the leather industry: Fundamentals of Leather Manufacturing which was published in 1993 and it was he who initiated the practice of holding a collagen symposium to precede each IULTCS congress.

On his death the tradition of the Darmstadt Institute for Macromolecular Chemistry, Protein and Leather came to an end and the subject of leather was deleted from the curriculum of the Technical University of Darmstadt.

Fundamental aspects of collagen were covered by a paper presented by Michael Meyer et al on the Effects of Temperature and Humidity on chromium and chrome-free leathers and one by Paula Antunes et al on the utilisation of oleuropein as a crosslinking agent in collagenic films. In addition there was a BLC paper given by Stuart Booth on the Extraction of DNA from leather and applications to the supply chain. This has proved very successful in identifying genuine chamois but cannot yet deal with chrome tanned leathers. What it can do, however, is indicate where hides and skins actually originate so that disputes regarding origins of raw materials can be investigated.

On the evening of the first day round table discussions were held to evaluate the role of Europe in the future of the leather industry. Marc Folachier, president (and also head of CTC France) said that the leather industry had lost a lot of markets which had not been replaced. He referred particularly to running shoes, ski boots and firemen’s jackets which were traditionally made of leather and are no longer. For this reason, he said the industry needs to be more creative.

According to one chemical supplier, new products may be in existence but the huge cost of bringing them to the market leaves them as potential products only. His own company is field testing one promising new development but he doubted it would ever be launched.

The sad fact is that the industry has been accused as lacking in innovation but the truth is that there is a great deal of innovation, it is just that it has to be directed towards replacing products which are no longer acceptable. Universities increasingly require that their research projects are fully funded and chemicals companies are faced with the high cost of registering their products under European regulations. Is it any wonder, then, that the majority of current advancements in technology is based on financial and regulatory requirements rather than on innovation pure and simple.

This is extremely worrying when you consider that the west still survives because it holds the key to technology, enabling the development of products with greater proficiency. If the west is forced to stay still, what will the long term future hold?

When it comes to research, Dietrich Tegtmeyer, LANXESS, said that everyone looks to the chemicals companies. Tailor-made chemical innovation has to come from a chemist who understands the leather process and such people are mainly to be found within the chemicals companies. He referred to the Heidemann lecture, which chronicled the Professor’s discoveries and said that most innovation and R&D in the past had come from Europe and had been launched first in Europe.

He said that Asia was very good at reproducing and scaling up to mass production which complements the European talent for innovation and research. The situation now is that a company can only sustain research activities if they are globally present and innovations are introduced worldwide.

The LANXESS technical innovation centre is currently in Europe and this situation will be re-evaluated in five years time when Tegtmeyer believes the decision will be to retain the status quo. He said that Europe is the perfect place to be because it is globally accessible. He also referred to the fact that a great deal of research funds are required to change products according to changing regulations. He said that this is innovation in a sense but different from the former understanding of novel products.

Folachier then discussed some of the problems confronting the leather industry: environmental restraints; water shortages; brand requirements with companies asking for more and more; and tanners continually looking to upgrade their products. He favours the development of universal standards and said he would like to see the creation of two more IU commissions. There are already four in existence and he proposed that others be created, one for research and the other for training. This was later ratified by the organising committee with UT – Training to be headed by Prof Geoff Attenburrow, BSLT, and IUR – Research headed by Folachier. It is hoped to hold the first meetings of these two new commissions during the Paris show in September 2006.

Folachier wants the industry to establish an international leather forum bringing together all leather related organisations and training institutes, and enabling them to speak with a single voice. His key words are: innovation, creativity, training and communication.

The ‘International Leather Forum’ requires some further defining but approaches have already been made to ICT and Cotance to participate. Approaches may also be made to hide traders associations such as ICHSLTA and possibly to retailers and brands. Work will progress between now and the IULTCS Washington Congress to see if an initial meeting could be held in June 2007 at the time of that congress.

He sees the International Leather Forum as a virtual place for the leather industry to communicate, saying that in the main tanners do not attend IULTCS nor do technicians attend preselections. At the Eurocongress there were twenty Turkish tanners listed but this is usually the case for the host country. For the rest, there was one tanner from each of France and Sweden. The bulk of the delegates are from the various research and training organisations plus a few people from the big chemicals companies. But this is an important congress which reviews technical research which is relevant to the leather industry and should be widely supported.

The current president of IULTCS, Folachier is also head of CTC, France, an organisation now spreading its area of activity into Asia. CTC are at the cutting edge of research and testing and among other things have, with Turner, developed the revolutionary Vision automated grading technology (see Leather International, June 2005, page 34, and March 2006, page 34). They have also devised a system for the automatic folding of raw hides, Leather International, October 2005, page 18). At any time, they have a variety of research projects underway.

At the gala dinner towards the end of the congress, Folachier reported that he had received a mandate from the executive committee to make proposals to all potential partners for the setting up of a worldwide dialogue within the framework of the International Leather Forum ‘and as a way to thank our Turkish friends, we propose to call this The Istanbul Initiative’.

Volkan Candar pointed to the importance of keeping the leather industry alive while the world seems to be looking for ever cheaper leather or its alternatives. And another delegate said that the hide traders at one end of the value chain and the retailers and brands at the other, strongly resist a slump in raw materials prices or for prices of consumer goods to rise, leaving the poor tanner in the middle, unable in most cases to raise his prices and pass on cost increases. This has a deleterious effect on the quality of leather. It has now become a matter of fit for purpose rather than the best leather for the job and this is bound to have a negative impact on the perception of leather as a luxury product.

Future congresses are planned as follows: Chengdu October 2006; Washington June 2007; Rio de Janeiro October 2008; Beijing October 2009.

* Elton Hurlow of Buckman Laboratories attended the IULTCS Eurocongress in Istanbul to update delegates on the next IULTCS Congress (XXIX) being held at the J W Marriott Hotel, Washington, DC, USA, from June 20-24, 2007, in conjunction with the 103rd ALCA annual meeting. The last time the international congress was held in Washington was in August 1961 (VII). There will be two keynote addresses, the John Arthur Wilson Memorial Lecture (ALCA) and the Heidemann Collagen Lecture (IULTCS).