Leather Research Department

The Leather Research Department is anchored in maintaining the European tradition of the leather and footwear industry, recognized as a world leader in ecology and sustainability and having a key role in the global market (30% of global production ).
The thematic areas of research addressed in 2022 are aligned with the European objectives regarding the role of interface between the leather industry, agriculture and society, by:
i) making smart materials to reduce environmental impact and increase competitiveness of the leather industry,
ii) superior use of protein by-products in a circular economy, with neutral environmental impact, and
iii) creating new methods of investigation and conservation of heritage objects made of leather, parchment, wood or other materials, as a vector for the transmission of representative cultural messages over time.
Research results meet the demands of the industry, agriculture and cultural heritage regarding the development of ecological alternatives with neutral environmental impact, obtaining sustainable, smart materials that contribute to the protection of the environment, consumers and cultural values.
Regulations affecting the leather industry refer to pollution (REACH Regulation (1907/2006), Directive 96/61/EC on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control), voluntary eco-labelling on carbon footprint (Carbon Footprint, ISO 14025) and harmlessness of leather goods (OEKO-TEX®, LEATHER STANDARD) or certification of chemicals free of harmful compounds (øZHMC), which lead to increased competitiveness, involve continuous innovation of chemical materials, processes and high performance in the evaluation of potentially hazardous substances.

The areas of expertise of the Leather Research Department are structured within three research topics:
Advanced materials, nanomaterials and smart technologies for the leather industry, with results in the application of new materials (organic and organo-metallic tanning agents from renewable resources, leather and fur free of chromium salts, recyclable), nanomaterials (nanocomposites based on nano titanium dioxide, silicon dioxide, nano Ag, nano Cu, graphene oxide, with photocatalytic activity in the UV and visible domain and with antimicrobial and photocatalytic properties) and smart technologies (including unconventional technologies using gamma radiation and plasma) to obtain leather with biocidal, self-cleaning properties, with ecological impact on the environment and consumers.
► Biomaterials based on proteins and plant extracts for applications in industry, agriculture, medicine, heritage or creative industries, with achievements in terms of advanced technologies and additives for leather processing and for other applications: foliar and soil fertilizers, growth stimulating agents, nutrition and treatment of plants and seeds, protein nanostructures with bioactive properties, keratin extracts for pharmaceutical formulas, vegetable tannins from alternative resources, protein and herbal auxiliaries for leather and fur processing.
Study, characterization and diagnosis of heritage objects made of leather, parchment, wood and other materials, with results regarding the elaboration of the protocols to assess degradation stage, deterioration mechanisms, methods of prevention and conservation, development of software dedicated to environmental monitoring or the acquisition of data regarding behaviour in hydrodynamic tests, approach of innovative cleaning and preservation techniques, development of new leather and parchment materials, protein adhesives and emulsifiers and preservation agents for heritage objects or for creative industries.
The department's expertise was leveraged through consulting services, technological transfer, technical assistance, dissemination and education activities for:
● evaluating chemical auxiliaries in terms of their environmental impact on direct effluents;
● development of parchment for ecclesiastic use and for the creative industries;
● making leather for heritage bookbinding;
● evaluating the preservation state of heritage documents;
● mentoring in European Project Semester (UPB);
● doctoral research internships for students from University of Salerno, Italy.

Research facilities and infrastructure: Leather Research Department

Projects developed in 2022 are presented below:
● Innovative technologies for making leather assortments with advanced properties, in accordance with circular economy principles (CREATIV_PIEL), NUCLEU, 16N/08.02.2019/Ad.16 /2021, PN 19 17 01 02, 3.01.2022-9.12.2022.
● New strategies for recycling waste from olive oil extraction (wet cakes) for application in the leather industry, OLIPO, European and International Cooperation - Subprogram 3.2- Horizon 2020 ERANET COFUND-MANUNET, contract 144, 18.03.2020-8.03.2022.
● Innovative foliar fertilizers obtained from protein by-products, used in maize crops, PNIII- European and International Cooperation, E!12610 FERTI-MAIZE, contract 127, 1.01.2020-31.12. 2022.
● Materials based on keratin and collagen from renewable resources for leather processing in the framework of circular economy, PN-III-P3-3.5-EUK-2019-0175 Eureka! 13559 KER_COL_CE, contract 187, 2020-2023.
● Technology for obtaining innovative non-active antimicrobial wound dressings, using indigenous bioresources, PN-III-P3-3.5-EUK-2019-0237, Eureka! 13429 NONACTIVPANS, contract 219, 2020-2023.
● Algorithm for valorification of entomological and leather residues in multivalent systems for skin tissue regeneration, PN-III-P2-2.1-PTE-2019-0655, BIOTEHKER, contract 5PTE, 1.06.2020-1.06.2022.
● Advanced cleaning and protection for the tangible cultural heritage, PN-III-P3-3.5-EUK2019-0196 Eureka! 13085 CAPTAN, contract 253/2021, 2021-2024.
● Biodegradable retanning and finishing agents with antimicrobial activity for ecological and safe production of leather, PN-III-P3-3.5-EUK2019-0236 Eureka! 13427 BIOSAFE-LEATHER, contract 254 ⁄ 2021, 2021-2024.
● System based on the internet of things to monitor the environment in museums, PN-III-P3-3.5-EUK2019-0211, Eureka! 13370 MUSEION, contract 256/2021, 2021-2024.
● Innovative treatments based on protein gels to increase the quality and production of vegetables, in the framework of sustainable agriculture, PN-III-P3-3.5-EUK2019-0249 Eureka! 13432 GEL-TREAT, contract 260/2021, 2021-2024.
● Multifunctional bio-pesticides for protection of orchards and seeds, for increased agricultural yield, PN-III-P3-3.5-EUK2019-0250 Eureka! 13430 BIO-PLANT-PROTECT, contract 262/2021, 2021-2024.
● Innovative techniques for treating collagen matrices with gamma radiation as a green alternative, PN-III-P1-1.1-PD-2021-0189, GAMMA COLL, contract 71PD/2022, 2021-2023.
● Research services contract for chemical auxiliaries for leather fatliquoring and retanning, no 23/2015-2023. .

Figure 1 shows that in 2022 the total value of projects increased by 23.3% compared to that of 2021, with a significant increase in the share of international Eureka projects, contracting 4 direct projects and a share of the value of Nucleu project of 24,5% of the total value of projects in 2022. The value of direct projects increased by 152% in 2022, compared to 2021.

The scientific activity carried out in 2022 manifested in: 8 articles published in ISI indexed journals with a cumulated impact factor of 33.602 (FI=4.20/article, an increased indicator compared to 2021), 273 citations in ISI indexed publications, 21 articles and conference papers in journals indexed in other international databases, 45 conference papers, 9 patent applications, 3 patents granted and 5 awards.

The research team:
The research team of the Leather Research Department (Figure 2) is made up of 15 persons, all of whom are certified in research, of which 10 are are doctors in the field of chemical engineering. The human resource structure is made up of 7 1st degree researchers, 1 2nd degree researcher, 1 3rd degree researcher (doctor), 2 scientific researchers (1 doctor and 1 PhD student) and 4 technicians (1 student technician).

The relational framework at national and international level is demonstrated by the number of strategic partnerships concluded with:
Universities and public institutions in Romania: University of Bucharest, “Politehnica” University of Bucharest, University of Agronomic Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Bucharest, “Dimitrie Gusti” National Village Museum, National University of Arts of Bucharest, “Dunarea de Jos” University of Galati, The National Museum of Bucovina, Suceava.
● Research institutes in Romania: “Horia Hulubei” National Research and Development Institute for Nuclear Physics and Engineering, National Research and Development Institute for Isotopic and Molecular Technologies of Cluj-Napoca, National Research and Development Institute for Chemistry and Petrochemistry - ICECHIM Bucharest; National Institute for Research and Development for Optoelectronics - INOE 2000, The National Institute of Materials Physics, “Petru Poni” Institute for Macromolecular Chemistry; “Ilie Murgulescu” Physical Chemistry Institute of Romanian Academy, National Heritage Institute, University of Art and Design of Cluj.
● Industrial partners from Romania: SC Probstdorfer Saatzucht Romania SRL, Oscar Print SRL, Manufactura Com Ana SRL, SC Taro Comimpex SRL, SC Biotehnos SA, SC SPD Star SRL, SC Pestos Production SRL, SC Marcoser SRL, SC Europlastic SRL, SC Restauro Concept SRL, SC Beia Cercetare SRL.
● Universities and research centers from abroad: University of Turin Italia, Łukasiewicz Research Network-Leather Industry Institute Lodz Polonia, Xi’an University RP China, Science and Technology Department of Sichuan Province (International Joint-Laboratory under „The Belt and Road Initiative”), Tomas Bata University in Zlin, Kaunas University of Technology Lithuania, Lleida University Spain.
●Industrial partners from abroad: Royal Smit&Zoon Netherlands, Pestila Sp. Z.o.o.Poland, Miret y Compañia SA Spain, Kazlıçeşme Deri Ürünleri Ar-Ge San. Tic. Ltd. Şti. Turkiye, Kortan Spol sro. Czech Republic, MB Biofita Lithuania, Curtidos Badia SA Spain, GP HGP- Novi Sad, Vojvodina, Serbia, Sampas Bilisim Ve Iletisim Sistemleri Sanayi Ve Ticaret A.S. Turkiye, Seacon Europe Ltd. Székesfehérvár, Hungary.

Perspectives and targeted research directions:
The areas that will be addressed take into account the objectives of the Horizon Europe program on circular economy, technologies and materials to ensure environmental neutrality and competitiveness of the leather industry, materials and technologies for the creative industry, heritage conservation through digitization, unconventional techniques with favourable environmental impact or health protection and which contribute to the reduction of pollution and climate change, recovery of organic by-products and reintegration into the agricultural circuit, with a favourable impact on food and consumers, etc.

Contact person:
Dr. eng. Carmen Gaidau
Head of Leather Research Department
e-mail: carmen.gaidau@icpi.ro