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ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY LEATHER TANNING USING ENZYMES
Current leather tanning methods use a high level of chemical agent inputs creating a lot of chemical output pollution. Of particular concern is the use of chromium (III) as the tanning agent, which if oxidized becomes chromium (VI), a known toxin and carcinogen. Compared with other tanning methods such as vegetable tanning, chrome tanned leather has very high hydrothermal stability, and is softer and more pliable. This is the reason that although chrome tanning causes a lot of water, solid waste, air and worker health problems, it still accounts for 90% of tanning production. The goal of this project is to investigate environmentally friendly leather tanning process using enzymes, and a combination of enzymes and non-toxic chemicals from plants. A successful combination of bio-based alternatives using enzymes and plant chemicals would be an innovative approach to leather tanning.
The effectiveness of the leather tanning will be evaluated by measuring shrinkage temperature, and analyzing leather structure using Scan Electron Microscope (SEM). The team will also measure leather physical/mechanical properties, including softness, tensile strength, elongation and modulus, and abrasion resistance, as well as environmental performance such as BOD, COD, TS (total solids), in accordance standard methods. The team expects to optimize an environmentally friendly leather tanning process that produces comparable physical traits to conventional chrome tanned leather.