Use of state-of-the-art enzymatic solutions can make the leather-making process quicker, cheaper and more efficient and result in increased yield by expanding the area and improvement of the physical qualities of finished leather. Novozymes offer a wide range of enzymatic solutions including lipases for beamhouse processes as well as new applications for re-tanning.

Sales turnover in 2006 was US$1.2 billion and the company are listed on the Copenhagen stock exchange (NZYMB).

The company have 4,500 employees in 30 countries and production takes place in Denmark, USA, China, Brazil, Sweden, the UK and Australia.

The group’s operating profit margin is around 20%, which global customer solutions manager Lars Rasmussen attributes to continued productivity improvements. These improvements mean that Novozymes now use the same quantity of raw material to produce a larger quantity of enzyme.

The origins of Novozymes can be traced back to Danish chemist August Krog, who brought news of the discovery of insulin to Denmark and went on to found Nordisk Gentofte, which became the first company to produce insulin in Denmark. Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium was founded by the Pedersen Brothers in 1925.

The company first developed enzymes for the leather industry in 1944 and the tanning process has been an important focus for them ever since. In 1989, Nordisk Gentofte and Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium merged to create Novo Nordisk. In 2000, Novozymes were spun off as an independent company within the NOVO group. Novozymes specialise in finding sustainable answers by using uncommon connections to support the industry in preparing for the inevitable requirements of tomorrow.

From tradition to vision

Enzymes have traditionally been used in a range of sectors such as the food and brewing industries. Enzymes perform a range of functions, for example, expanding the shelf life of bread by preventing it from going stale. In the textiles industry, the cellulase enzyme can be used to produce stone-washed jeans without the need for pumice or chlorine. Novozymes’ approach is to develop the traditional uses of enzyme technology to bring new benefits to producers and consumers.

The company place a high priority on R&D, dedicating around 13% of turnover to R&D. This works across all industries doing basic research which leather technicians benefit from.

The future

According to Rasmussen, European tanners tend to be very sceptical about new products and biotechnology, but it is very well received in Asia and Latin America. To confirm this trend, sales of enzymes are increasing to developing markets such as China and Pakistan.

He believes that ‘adopting bioinnovations is the key to survival for tanners’, adding ‘in thirty years’ time, tanning will be a combination of biotech and environmentally friendly chemistry’. According to Rasmussen, enzymes are completely biodegradable and made from sustainable raw materials.

After twelve hours, there is no enzyme left in the leather – it is extremely environmentally friendly. This allows the tanner to adapt the traditional process to reduce dependence on limited natural resources and obtain cost and energy savings. The use of biodegradable products is now increasingly important in the automotive industry. Niels Kildegaard, global business manager, states: ‘Novozymes have put the key in the lock – it is now up to the leather industry to turn that key!’

The advantages of using enzymes in the leather making process include increased yield and improved physical properties of the finished leather. For example, Novocor AX removes elastin in the neutralisation process thus relaxing the skin, in turn yielding a larger area. In the article published in Leather International August/September 2006, (p18-24), Figure 3 reveals the savings in terms of chemicals and energy offered by use of enzyme products.

Greasex Ultra is an extremely efficient lipase for beamhouse use. Following tests in Shanghai, it was launched in 2007. Residual hair is a major problem today in the leather industry due to lack of penetration, and natural fat is the biggest barrier to dispersion. Reducing fat leads to better penetration and saves time. Bioinnovations like Greasex Ultra penetrate the hide from both sides. BLC in the UK have proven that Greasex Ultra enhances lipid removal. The product represents a completely new approach – the soaking process has been moved from the beamhouse to the liming or bating process.

Novozymes launched the first lipase for the automotive industry in the early 1990s and now aim to use enzymes in place of surfactants. Proteases have been used extensively but imply a risk of turning the hide into gelatine. Lipases cannot degrade protein so there are many benefits but no associated risks. Use of a lipase in leather boosts the effect of other enzymes thus facilitating the access to the substrate.

Lipases are also extremely controllable, which is an advantage to the tanner as an even dispersion of natural fat makes it easier to produce automotive and waterproof leather. Lipases increase uniformity and chemical uptake.

Novozymes have also improved filling and dye penetration to produce a much more uniform piece of leather. As this enzyme technology has no influence on the protein of leather, there is no negative effect on waterproof leather and it gives a better end-result. In addition, it improves fogging value and dyeing capability. Wastewater parameters are also improved. Lars Rasmussen predicts that in the near future, tanners will come to use lipases on a daily basis.

NovoBate, launched in Autumn 2006, is an example of the new generation of bating products as bioinnovation. This concept offers gentler bating. NovoBate 115 is a brand new fungal microbial trypsin-like enzyme and demonstrates the rethinking tomorrow idea. It is a copy of a pancreatic enzyme and thus shares the results associated with such an enzyme, including full flanks, tight grain, slightly less softness and slower action. NovoBate 115 is for use on calf and kid leather, and all kinds of delicate grain leather, to achieve tight upper leather, fine grain, good scud loosening, even grain break, good dry milling effect and fullness. The company want to teach tanners to control the pelt more. Bating for Novozymes is a speciality not a commodity. By reducing the bating dosage and running for longer, tanners can achieve cleaner grain, better uniformity in crust and less pronounced growth marks. Prolonging the bating process, particularly for upholstery leathers, results in softer, more spongy leathers, without looseness. In garments, it improves drape.

Rasmussen concludes: ‘Tanners cannot continue using a technology from 1944 – rethink tomorrow!’