Biodegradation of leather solid waste

  • Sally Yagoub

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Waste management in the leather industry worldwide is an issue of major importance for both solid and liquid wastes. It has been recognised that there are major environmental impacts from the poorly managed disposal of such wastes and these have a clear health impact upon human society. Within Europe, under EU driven legislation, the costs of wastes management are increasing rapidly and there is a clear need to research improved methods to cost effectively deal with leather industry wastes. Biodegradation (anaerobic), as a management option, of solid wastes from the leather industry is an area that is attracting increased interest in recent years as being a technique that has wide public acceptability as well as process efficiency. However, tanning agents that prolong the lifetime of leather goods have a negative impact on biodegradation and this needs to be addressed before efficient treatment can occur. To drive the agenda this research has the aims of • Highlighting the effects of tanning agent on anaerobic digestion. • Understanding the mechanism(s) by which different leather tannages can biodegraded. • Developing a process to reverse the action of tannage. Leather solid wastes were anaerobically digested using Serum Bottle Assays (SBA). The effect of a range of vegetable, mineral and aldehyde tanning agents of leather on the rate of anaerobic digestion was assessed. Common tanning agents used included; myrica, valonea, glutaraldehyde and chrome. To further identify key factors for cost effective anaerobic digestion, tanned hide powders and tanned leathers were also pre-treated using autoclaving, liming, enzymes etc, in an attempt to determine whether tannage may be reversed. Major techniques used in the research include: anaerobic digestion, Biochemical Methane Potential (BMP), Total Solids contents (TS), Gas Chromatography (GC) and Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). Hydrolysable tannins are less resistant to anaerobic digestion than condensed tannins. However, enzymatic pre-treatment reduces the resistance and this offers a new effective pre-treatment route. Thermal pre-treatment also decreased resistance to anaerobic digression especially for chrome, glutaraldehyde, myrica and tannic acid tanned leathers. Chemical pre-treatment also generally lowered the resistance to anaerobic digestion. Selective pre-treatment offers a means of improving the cost effectiveness of anaerobic digestion of leather and therefore enabling a new waste management method to be adopted by the industry. A relationship emerges, in some cases, between chemical structure of tanning agent and inhibition of anaerobic digestion. This offers the possibility of producing new, designed organic tanning agents with, suitable properties, to be adopted by the industiy, The research agenda within the leather industry is still ongoing and recommendations for future research are addressed
Date of Award2006
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorAnthony D Covington (Supervisor)

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