Processing of leather has an historical reputation as a chemically and energetically intensive process that produces large volumes of aqueous waste. Saline pollution combined with heavy-metal, dyes and acid and base streams make leather production an ecologically sensitive industry. The current study shows that a variety of deep eutectic solvents (DESs) may be used for the tanning, fatliquoring and dyeing of animal hides, being particularly useful for mineral (chromium) and vegetable tanning processes. The tanning agents are able to penetrate rapidly into the hide, driven by lyotropic swelling due to their high ionic strength. The samples are shown to have similar tanning agent content to the currently used aqueous chromium(III) sulfate solution; however, the waste metal content is shown to be significantly reduced. Incorporation of the DES Ethaline into the leather significantly alters the swelling properties of the leather increasing the flexibility and ductility of the material, therefore acting in the same manner as a fatliquor that lubricates or plasticizes the fibrous structure of the collagen. Ethaline was also used to transport a lysochromic dye throughout the cross section of the leather, and the hydrophobicity of the dye prevents leaching into the aqueous wash solution. Physical measurements show that leather processed using DESs have similar mechanical properties to that processed using conventional aqueous systems.
- Deep eutectic solvent