Leather is one of the leading materials in the fashion and luxury production chain, where Italian tanning production holds a significant primacy at European and international level, confirming over the years its first place in Europe for value creation, with a share of 66%, and increasing its incidence on the value of production worldwide, rising to 23%. (Sustainability Report 2022 of the National Union of the Tanning Industry UNIC).
Leather derives from the transformation of a food industry by-product, raw hides and skins, and the Circular Economy principles are well integrated with the current direction that the Italian tanning chain is following, that is becoming even more strategic as a model of development and sustainable growth in the of the Bioeconomy scenario, finding further commitment and investment thanks to the widespread recovery, treatment and reuse of the various waste products of the production process.
From this scenario arises the need for the leather supply chain to multiply its efforts aimed at preserving a strategic role in the field of bioeconomy and circular economy, while matching the sector’s innovation needs: growing demand for functionalized, customized and high-performance leather items, with the consequent need to identify more challenging approaches to ensure the capability of the material to satisfy, simultaneously, all the features of sustainability, circularity and high added value.
SOLARIS Project aims to be a tool to face these new challenges.
The project, according to the central proposal objectives of 3A-Italy/PE-MICS, and consistently with the main sustainability and innovation needs of the companies operating among the tanning chain, is aimed at experimenting novel solutions for wet processing and for leather finishing, with a high added value, for providing increased performance properties, and reduced environmental impact of products; in this sense, the performance and sustainability features of molecules and materials deriving from the transformation of biomass from different industrial sectors will be tested (in particular, waste materials from natural sources, as agri-food waste materials); the project is also aimed at the development and use of enabling technologies for the treatment, rational management and transformation of waste from tanning production, as well as for the use of molecules and materials deriving from other supply chains (particularly agri-food and textiles), for the production of novel circular materials, in order to promote circular models of companies, fostering principles of industrial symbiosis; in this context, technological solutions will be explored, where Enabling Technologies for the sustainability and circularity of leather and for development of enhanced products will include:
▪ Green chemistry approaches and tanning biotechnologies for obtaining molecules with high added value, deriving from tannery waste and supply chains that use biomass for the production of novel generations of sustainable leathers and circular materials;
▪ Tanning nanotechnologies for the production of nanomaterials and nanocomposes, mainly carbon-based from the waste biomass, and for providing additional properties to leather and to novel circular materials;
▪ Additive manufacturing for the transformation and enhancement of waste;
▪ Enabling 4.0 approaches for the rational management of waste and for the monitoring and minimization of resources (water, energy and chemicals).
Arising from the need to improve the efficiency of the leather industry and its supply chain, in terms of solutions for the valorization of waste and in terms of product innovation and functionalization, the Project is aimed to reach solutions for the design and development of molecules and materials to be used in the production of novel generations of sustainable leathers with high added value (smart and sustainable leathers); it is also aimed at promoting sustainable approaches for design of novel circular materials deriving from waste from the tanning industry and other supply chains that use biomass, according to the principles of Industrial Symbiosis.
The project involves the use of enabling technologies, such as: nanotechnologies, biotechnologies, additive manufacturing, for the development of molecules and materials to be used in the tanning sector, also deriving from waste from other renewable sources (textile and agri-food industries), as well as for the development of molecules and materials able to provide added properties to leathers and to novel circular materials, such as: self-cleaning, antimicrobial, waterproofing, antioxidant, flame-resistant, stain-resistant increased light resistance, increased surface electrical conductivity properties.
Through the multidisciplinary scientific expertise network of the partnership, it will be possible to carry out the following activities:
WP1 – needs analysis for innovation, product sustainability and valorization of waste from the perspective of the circular economy for the leather supply chain
WP2 – characteristics of the starting materials and of the transformation products
WP3 – design and experimentation of high added value molecules from renewable sources for wet processes
Wp4 – design and experimentation of molecules and materials with high added value from renewable sources for finishing processes
WP5 – approaches for the transformation and valorization of waste
WP6 – identification of advanced sensor technologies and 4.0 approaches for quality production control, traceability and for the rational management of waste
WP7 – evaluation of the impacts of the production processes and minimization solutions
Through the partnership’s network of skills involved in SOLARIS Project it will therefore be possible to achieve the following expected goals:
▪ Solutions for the design and development of novel generations of sustainable leather with high added value (smart and sustainable leathers);
▪ Solutions for the design and development of novel circular materials deriving from waste from the tanning industry and other supply chains that use biomass;
▪ Solutions for the design and development of novel resource optimization processes;
▪ Solutions for the design of approaches aimed at promoting the development of industrial symbiosis models;
▪ Design and development of approaches for the assessment of impacts along the life cycle of products;
▪ Design and development of approaches for product and process monitoring with a view to guaranteeing the quality and traceability of productions;
▪ Diffuse use among supply chain of 4.0 technologies and other enabling technologies, such as biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, green chemistry, additive manufacturing, aimed at promoting the digital and sustainable transition of the tanning industry.