Zeology provides tanning in a completely new way

Smit & Zoon launches Zeology tanning concept

Four years in the making, Smit & Zoon’s new tanning concept Zeology is said to be a gamechanger in the segment, offering not only a new, sustainable leathermaking process, but also expanding the company’s portfolio of wet-end and finishing products under the Smit and Codyeco brands with a new subsidiary, Nera. ILM Editor Isabella Griffiths talked with CEO Hans van Haarst about the launch.

In an interview with International Leather Maker Hans van Haarst, CEO of Smit & Zoon, talks about the launch of our new tanning concept, Zeology.

Read the full article (pdf) or go to Internationlleathermaker.com.

“Zeology is the new standard in tanning and is not comparable to any of the solutions available to date. We see it as a gamechanger in our industry”, says
Hans van Haarst, CEO of Smit & Zoon. “Zeology provides tanning in a completely new way with advantages throughout the whole value chain. You can make the comparison between a fuel powered versus an electric car: it provides the same transportation, but in essence is completely different”, he adds.

Hans van Haarst, CEO Smit & Zoon

Environmental benefits

As Zeology is a metal-free system, it offers a number of environmental benefits to chrome and glutardialdehyde (GDA) tanning, though van Haarst is  keen to stress that it is not about denouncing chrome-tanning, but about offering a sustainable alternative. “We don’t want to be negative about existing tanning systems, including chrome. Chrome has been the workhorse of the industry for many years and has brought the industry to where it is now. But it has advantages and disadvantages. Now, entering Zeolite tanning, we see specific advantages, particularly with regards to environmental and health & safety aspects. It is very safe. Zeolite, in a different form, is used in make-up, in detergents, in toothpaste, in detox tablets etc. It is broadly available, and it is a very safe product”, he says.

“Zeology provides tanning in a completely new way with advantages throughout the whole value chain.”

The key advantages of Zeology cover both environmental aspects, as well as leather properties. Due to its cationic character, Zeology tanned leather enables high chemical uptake in the wet-end process, resulting in reduced tanning product usage and reduced COD (chemical oxygen demand) of the wastewater. The sludge waste from the wastewater treatment plant is metal-free, and shavings and cuttings after the tanning operation are readily biodegradable and compostable. “This is due to the fact that the tanning mechanism is different. With GDA and with chrome, you crosslink the collagen fibres, with the Zeolite tanning system you form a micro-coating around the collagen fibres so when you have the shavings and you put them in certain conditions, such as humidity, temperature, microorganisms, they readily degrade and you make a compost out of it”, explains van Haarst. “Like glass or sand, the material Zeolite contains oxygen, aluminium and silicon, which is fixed in a three-dimensional open lattice structure. The tanning mechanism is not accomplished with metal-ions, and therefore it is uniquely different to conventional metal-tanning agents. So, if you talk about circularity, biodegradability, compostability, topics which are increasingly on the agenda of the leathermaker, this is a huge step forward”, he adds.

Zeo White

According to van Haarst, the tanned leather itself, which is white and therefore called Zeo White, is of reliable, consistent high quality, with tightness and a flat grain with significantly reduced looseness in the bellies and flanks. In addition, it has good lightfastness, heat-resistance and colour brightness as well as good elongation, tear strength and dry shrinkage temperature, along with good heat yellowing and fogging properties. Zeology tanned substrate can, unlike traditional wet-white, be stored for an extended time and transported and shipped as needed, while being heavily resistant to mould without special treatment. “In fact, the tanned leather can be dried and shipped as a commodity and just wet-back for further processing. This could potentially eliminate the need to ship wet salted or wet-tanned material around the world, reducing transport costs and the environmental footprint”, says van Haarst.

The Zeology system allows the creation of bright colours with less dyestuffs.

Selective partners to start with

Zeology will only be available directly through Nera, not through agents or other distribution channels, in order to control market penetration across targeted product segments and in line with current capacity, although this is to be extended “as we see traction and adoption of the system in the marketplace develop” as van Haarst explains: “We are not going to flood the market with Zeology, but instead, we want to work with carefully selected partners. We want to ensure that the market can fully understand what we have developed, how it works and what the benefits at all stages of the value chain are. Another reason is also that we need to build up production capacity. We currently have one
plant where we can produce Zeology, and we have plans to expand the current plant, as well as add another one in a different location to keep pace with increased demand. It will take between eight months to expand the current facility and between 12 to 18 months to build a new site. Fortunately, this fits quite nicely with our anticipated development cycle”, he says.

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