Environment: Towards a more sustainable European tanning industry


Substituting toxic substances with waste from natural substances, reducing the use of chlorine and achieving a 20% water reduction in the leather tanning process. The ENEA coordinates EU project LIFETAN, aiming at radically changing in a sustainable direction the European tanning industry within two years, has just kicked off.

The European tanning industry is going green. The project LIFETAN (Eco-friendly tanning cycle), coordinated by ENEA and financed by the EU with over 500thousand euro, has just begun. The project’s goal is to substitute chemical oil derived products with natural substances from poultry and agro-industrial waste in some phases of the leather tanning process (bating, defatting, dyeing, fatting and tanning).

ENEA (National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and the Environment) will work for two years, jointly with the four partners of the Scientific Program (two research centers, the CNR-ICCOM in Pisa, the Spanish INESCOP and two tanneries, the Italian NEWPORT and the Spanish TRADELDA SL) to achieve a sustainable and economically viable production for the tanning sector companies.

In practice, the project LIFETAN will aim at the substitution of hazardous substances such as chrome and the reduction of the chlorine content with six new eco-friendly formulations using natural by-products and waste. But there’s more: a 20%water consumption cut in the leather tanning process and an equal reduction of pollutants in wastewater, increased biodegradability of the molecules used and 50% increased absorption capacity of green products compared to those currently employed.

But that’s not all: the research and industries team will aim at securing the Ecolabel brand for the european footwear sector thanks to new eco-friendly processes and products. LIFETAN derives from the combination of the results obtained in previous projects focused on the single phases of the tanning process such as PODEBA for leather bating -coordinated by ENEA - considered among the 25 best LIFE projects for eco-sustainability, ECODEFATTING for defattening, OXATAN for chromo substitution (Best of the Best 2012), ECOFATTING for fatting and BIONAD for coloring.

The European tanning industry-70% of which is located in Italy and Spain_- accounts for a large share of global production and it’s an important economic sector for the entire European Union. Conventional tanning manufacturing processes have a significant environmental impact because of their use of toxic and non-biodegradable substances (e.g. chloroparaffins), such as the products used to reintroduce fats into the leather after tanning. Not to mention the semi-processed or finished products containing toxic metals- particularly chrome- that make it difficult to recycle and dispose.

The whole sector-Alice Dall’Ara of the ENEA Laboratory for Materials Technologies, Head of the project LIFETAN, explained- needs to significantly improve process sustainability without altering the quality of a world renowned production”.

Technical and economical feasibility will proceed in stages, from laboratory experimentation through a pre-industrial activity envisaging training activities for Spanish and Italian tanners and finally to manufacturing at industrial level in both partner tanneries.

For more information visit:


Alice Dall’Ara - Laboratorio TEcnologie dei MAteriali Faenza (TEMAF) - alice.dallara@enea.it
Federica Bezzi - Laboratorio TEcnologie dei MAteriali Faenza (TEMAF) – federica.bezzi@enea.it

Filed under: