Leather for car interiors is often tanned using chrome or glutaraldehyde-based processes. This has been the case for many years even though chrome processing renders the leather difficult to recycle and concerns remain about the long-term health and safety aspect of glutaraldehyde.

Within the EU, the ‘end of life vehicle directive’ will increasingly oblige automotive manufacturers to meet stringent targets on the recycling and safe disposal of vehicles. This will mean automotive leather purchasers will need to look for leather tanned by alternative methods.

An eco-friendly, high performance alternative is available from chemical manufacturers, Rhodia. Known as Albrite, it is a phosphonium-based tanning agent. Rhodia recently stormed the Paris motorshow with a creative stand demonstrating the different areas of their chemistry that contribute to all aspects of automobile construction.

Albrite products possess low eco-toxicity and are readily biodegradable. These characteristics are transferred to the final article, producing performance leather that is fully biodegradable and recyclable. Research has shown composted Albrite tanned leather to be a ready source of phosphorous and nitrogen, which could be used as a supplementary, nitrogen rich fertiliser.

Albrite is safe and easy to handle and phosphonium based tannages are water-based and compatible with most existing tannery chemicals and processes.

In contrast to chrome based systems, an Albrite tannage produces a white intermediate leather stage which has multifunctional applications. Albrite penetrates quickly and is easily monitored throughout the tanning stage. This allows for cost effective dosing, reduced waste and process consistency.

Chrome-free leathers are produced which retain the characteristic feel and handle that makes leather a uniquely desirable material. Albrite tanned leather also exhibits increased ageing durability, high tear and tensile strengths and is inherently flame retardant. Additionally, improved comfort may be provided using this product as it offers increased water vapour permeability according to test results.

Rhodia market their range of phosphorous-based leather tanning agents both directly under the Albrite trade name and via a number of licensed distributors. Rhodia select these distributors for their ability to provide the highest levels of technical support and their ability to bring in-depth application and process knowledge.