RowaLef: Raw material-efficient, water-free leather dyeing

Innovative dyeing process avoids wastewater contaminated with chemicals and sustainably conserves resources.

Leather dyeing process in the autoclave

The use of compressed carbon dioxide as a solvent for dyes makes it possible to completely avoid wastewater contaminated with chemicals.

Dyeing leather sustainably and water-free

Dyeing process at Fraunhofer UMSICHT in Oberhausen: Dyestuff utilization of almost 100%, a dyestuff saving of over 95%.

Project objectives: Water-free and resource-efficient leather dyeing process.

To improve the raw material efficiency of leather dyeing, a water-free, resource-efficient process for dyeing leather is being developed in the "RowaLef" project. The use of compressed carbon dioxide as a solvent for dyes makes it possible to completely avoid wastewater contaminated with chemicals. Cost-intensive dyes, whose manufacturing process accounts for a large share of the CO2 footprint of leather, are eliminated. The environmental standards of the tanneries can thus be significantly improved by the innovative process. 

Project benefits: Less wastewater and dyeing auxiliaries

In conventional leather dyeing, dyes are dissolved in water. These are used in excess. Only some of the dyes diffuse into the leather and dye it. However, the majority of the excess dyes are subsequently disposed of with the wastewater and contaminate it. The visible leather surface is additionally coated with dyed synthetic lacquers using a spray process. A considerable amount of this is not applied to the leather, but must be disposed of with the wastewater as so-called overspray. Of all the chemicals, these dyes cause the largest CO2 footprint and the highest costs in the complex production process.

The "RowaLef" project has set itself the goal of dispensing with the use of water and dyeing aids. CO2 -based dyeing is intended to reduce the use of dyes and prevent 100 percent contamination of the wastewater. 

Compressed carbon dioxide as a colorant

Leather is a composite material consisting of synthetic and natural materials. Unlike natural materials such as wool or silk, they can be dyed using carbon dioxide as a solvent for dyes. For this purpose, the leather composition is specifically adapted to anhydrous CO2 -based dyeing. 

Since June 2020, researchers in the "RowaLef" project have been investigating how neutral (non-dyed) leather can be produced conventionally and impregnated using only compressed carbon dioxide. In this way, dyeing downstream of the leather manufacturing process is to be made possible, thus saving an enormous amount of dye and water. The newly developed process also ensures high rub fastness of the leather, and various leather coatings can be impregnated.

Project result: Flexible leather dyeing process

In the course of the project so far, it has been shown that the visible leather surface of dry leather can be dyed with a high degree of flexibility using CO2 -intensified dyeing at 100 bar and 40 °C. The dyestuff utilization is almost 100% and the dyestuff savings are over 95% compared with conventional spray dyeing.  

Project partner

  • Leather factory Heinen 
  • Light leather
  • Langro Chemistry
  • Associated partners

Funding information

Federal Ministry of Education and Research


Duration: July 2020 to June 2022

Funding code: 033RK085A