Project results

  • The extraction process of gelatine from hides and skins consists of several steps. Native collagen is a highly structured protein which is insoluble in water. For this reason, a pre-treatment is necessary in order to break such structure, produce fibre swelling and collagen solubilisation, thus enabling its further extraction. An acid pre-treatment is commonly used when gelatine is extracted from pig skins. An alkaline pre-treatment is performed when bovine hides are used as a raw material. After this treatment (a long process that takes several weeks), the treated material is washed free of alkali and neutralised by the addition of acid. Most of the neutral salts produced during this process are then removed by numerous washes. As a result, this is a process with a high water requirement which also generates highly protein-content wastewater. For this reason, an improvement of the process which leads to savings in energy and water consumption is regarded of high priority.

    Proteolytic enzymes (proteases) are commonly used in the detergent industry for breaking down proteinaceous matter caused by body secretions, food stuff, and blood. Such type of enzymes is also being introduced in the leather industry as an alternative to conventional procedures in dehairing, bating and soaking processes.

    The use of this kind of enzymes during the pre-treatment of hides prior to gelatine extraction has been proposed within LIFE microTAN project as a new enzymatic pre-treatment, alternative to the alkaline and acid ones, in order to minimise the environmental impact, as well as to reduce processing time.

    A scheme of the proposed procedure, as carried out at laboratory scale, is shown in the picture below.

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  • After establishing LIFE microTAN enzymatic process at laboratory, it has been scaled up and a demonstration plant has been designed, constructed and set up.

    Both pre-treatment and extraction conditions highly affect gelatine properties and, therefore, its end use. For this reason, during the scaling up of LIFE microTAN process, both the pre-treatment and extraction stages have been optimised in order to produce gelatine with suitable properties for microencapsulation applications.

    scaling up

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  • On the basis of the process stabilised at laboratory scale and optimised at medium-size scale, a demonstration plant for the recovery of non-tanned hide wastes has been designed, constructed and set up. The demonstration plant is located at INESCOP facilities, next to a microencapsulation pilot plant.

    4 LIFE microTAN Demo plant

    The selected design consists in a main reactor where both pre-treatment and extraction stages take place. Gelatine concentration can also be made in the own reactor with the help of a vacuum system.

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  • Microcapsulas2Microencapsulation is a coating technology by which active substances are encapsulated in a polymeric shell, leading to core-shell particles called microcapsules.

    Microencapsulation is an effective method to prevent reactive, sensitive or volatile chemicals from reacting with moisture, light and oxygen. Besides, this technology not only enhances stability against external factors, but also allows a controlled release of the active substance. Indeed, microcapsules, when anchored to a material such as leather, can add new smart functionalities without affecting its look and feeling at touch.

    Therefore, this technology holds great promise for the future of tanneries and leather end-user industries, such as footwear. It can transform a traditional leather-made item into an active one by incorporating microencapsulated products with active properties.

    The selection of the most convenient microencapsulation methodology depends on the substance to be encapsulated, intended use and polymeric shell.

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  • In 2015, the European Commission released its Communication Closing-the-loop - An EU action plan for the Circular Economy. This document established an ambitious Circular Economy Package with the aim of encouraging both European businesses and consumers to make a more sustainable use of resources by implementing a circular economy.

    This Circular Economy Package establishes a precise and ambitious program of actions, with measures that include a revision of Directive 2008/98/EC on waste and Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfill of waste, among others. Besides, this action plan covers the whole cycle: from production and consumption to waste management and use as secondary raw materials. In contrast to the traditional, linear “extract-transform-use-dispose” economy model, the European Commission proposes "closing the loop" of products’ lifecycles by increasing recycling and re-use, in favour of both the environment and the economy.

    The revised legislative proposals on waste set clear targets for waste and landfill reduction, and establish a road map for waste management and recycling. A key element of the revised waste proposal includes specific measures to promote re-use by turning by-products into raw materials, which will also stimulate industrial symbiosis.

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