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Bio-engineered leather for the shoe industry

An EU-funded consortium developed novel tissue engineering techniques to increase the yield and quality of leather products while reducing water consumption and pollution.
Bio-engineered leather for the shoe industry
The leather manufacturing industry employs a variety of processes, one of the most important of which is tanning of raw hides. Tanning increases resilience and strength for use in a variety of products including light-leather shoes.

Tanning most often involves the use of toxic chemicals to bathe the raw hides in a repeated process of soaking and rinsing. It generates a tremendous amount of wastewater which, when not properly disposed of, can pose serious risks to human health and the environment.

A European consortium came together to solve some of the most prominent issues of European tanneries with EU support of the ‘Bio-engineering of leather: structure design, biosynthesis - Towards zero emission production’ (Dermagenesis) project.

In addition to issues of water consumption and pollution, the raw materials market for hides and skins is highly volatile and the quality is variable. In addition, mechanical performance of the raw material is often superior to that of the finished product.

The universities, research institutes, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and industrial association groups (IAGs) involved in the project set out to develop novel, cost-effective bio-manufacturing tailored to the specific needs of footwear manufacturers.

The Dermagenesis project goals were to increase product yield and quality while minimising water consumption and pollution via development of cutting-edge biotechnological processes.

Dermagenesis developed natural and synthetic bio-hybrid materials and processing techniques resulting in low- or no-waste production of metal-, salt- and biocide-free semi-processed dried products.

Combining traditional leather working technology with tissue engineering, a three mm thick three-dimensional (3D) bovine (cattle, buffalo, ox, etc.) skin was stabilised and processed with novel, post-tissue growth techniques.

A first ever portable bio-toxicity testing instrument (Dermatox) produced by the consortium has potential applications in numerous fields in addition to tanning.

Optimisation of biotechnology developed by the Dermagenesis consortium has the potential to increase the yield and quality of materials for the leather shoe sector while reducing the use of water and pollutants. Exploitation will no doubt be good for the industry’s competitive position and for human health and the environment.

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