Nanotechnology and biopolymers for retanning and finishing.
Aim: increase the technical performance of the leather without spoiling the tactile sensation and with the constant control of environmental impact from the processes always in the forefront. In the Stefani Chimis laboratories, a company owned by the Stefani brothers – 24 employees in their Montebello factory – they focus on research to produce retanning and greasing products that are more effective and safer, sourcing supplies from renewable sources and a short supply chain. “Technology is the key to keep this sector afloat – Marco Nogarole, Research & Development Manager, commented – without forgetting our typically craftsman instinct and skills”.
How did 2011 end?
Well, in that the results were positive, there was a slight downturn in sales with respect to 2010, but we managed to maintain our margins by developing specialised high quality products. In 2012 we will play it by ear: the alert level is high for us and all the other trade operators.
What is your research addressed to?
The strongpoints are technologies for fireproof and water-repellent leathers with a performance that is well above average. The first technology not only makes the leather fireproof but also the smoke it develops is not very dense. It has been demonstrated that in fires, serious injuries are mainly caused by the poor visibility in the dense smoke, making it impossible to reach the emergency exits, causing suffocation and intoxication. Leathers treated with our products, for use on airplane, train and cinema seats for example, are not only flame resistant, meaning the fire can be put out quicker than with other materials, but the smoke they develop is not very dense or toxic. This is the outcome of very lengthy research which started in 2006 and was completed in 2009. We took part in a tender that was reserved to the districts, together with other local companies, announced by the Faculty for Materials Engineering in Padua University and Nanofab in Mestre for developing nanotechnology. By transferring this technology to leather, we have achieved excellent innovation standards. Basically we create a product that redefines leather, making it tougher against abrasion and rubbing, but still breathable, natural and pleasant to touch.
How does chemical research support the requests for ecofriendly and green production from companies?
Stefani Chimis is developing a green product independently. We are studying innovative biopolymers, exploiting raw materials that are not derived from oil but renewable sources. Generally they are obtained from food waste, or products that have no market in the food industry. These materials are collected, treated and reprocessed then transformed into suitable material for retanning and greasing. There are noteworthy environmental advantages: first and foremost, we no longer depend on oil and all the materials come from renewable sources. Secondly, the supply chain is shorter with zero footprint. Thirdly, the products are natural and therefore more biodegradable and easy to dispose of. In fact, all supplies could be obtained locally and therefore all oil sourced materials could be completely eliminated.
However, this is Made in Chimis research and we hope to start a trend, but there are no requests so far from our clients. It is probable there will be a gradual turn towards processes and products that are less polluting and have lower environmental impact, but we are not certain.
However this is our choice and we consider it an investment in the future.
To what extent is the future of leather tied to research?
It is totally tied to research, technology and craftsmanship. Synthetic products are mass produced, but leather is unpredictable. Not only the leathers differ in the same batch, but the same leather even has different areas. Leather is a living material that has to be touched and smelt each single time. The recipe and ingredients alone are not sufficient to make a good product. For example, different items could be produced because Chinese processing water was used and not Arzignano water. Therefore research must go hand in hand with craftsmanship ability, product research, passion and skill. Good leather will never be a mass produced product.