Bio-Polyols

Can Bio-Based Polyols Make Leather Finishes More Sustainable?

During this years IULTCS congress in Dresden, Stahl’s Director of Sustainability spoke about the environmental impact of leather chemicals. He discussed the use of the Life Cycle Assessment Methodology (LCA) as a valuable tool to determine the effect and potential benefits of bio-based technologies in reducing the footprint leather production leaves on our planet.

LCA methodology and bio-based chemistry

Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCRs) for calculating the environmental impact of leather manufacturing were approved by the European Commission in 2018. LCA is the core methodology for measuring and assessing the environmental impact of leather production chemicals during the production process and towards end of product life.

The data gathered through measurement is reported in an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), which provides a tool to measure the final product impact. This enables leather manufacturers to deliver a statement on the environmental footprint of their production process, but also on the use of bio-technology in comparison to the traditional technologies.

A shift towards bio-based polyurethane dispersions

The leather industry is shifting more and more to the use of non-petrochemical solutions as part of an industry wide effort towards more responsible production. Polyurethane dispersions (PUDs) have been used in leather finishing for a long time as the base resin in complex coating formulations.

This resin is originally based on polymers derived from polyols of petrochemical origin, yet development efforts have been focused on finding bio-based, non-depletive options.

These bio-based alternatives are now available. We already are able to achieve performance standards on par with traditional chemistry with polyols from renewable resources. These can be obtained from raw materials such as sugar, corn, rapeseed, soy or palm.

Advancements in biotechnology have made it possible to replace up to 60% of the polymer dispersion in PUDs with bio-based content. With the the cradle-to-cradle principle in mind, these are important steps forward.

The real gamechanger?

The question arises and has become a point of discussion, if bio-based alternatives really are the more sustainable option. LCA can provide us with the answers. The preliminary findings can only be taken as indicative, but they give us a good idea about the effect biotech could have on the leather industry and it’s environmental impact.

Read the LCA document:

REFS