China has seen steady growth of its leather industry since 1995 and is the largest leather producer in the world. Leather science research has evolved to support this vital sector. In 2008 the National Engineering Laboratory for Clean Technology of Leather Manufacturing was established at SCU, to coordinate environmentally sustainable development of the leather industry through science and technology.
Leather science has been studied at SCU since 1921. With the establishment of the national engineering laboratory, the university plays a leading role in the development of leather science in China. Integrating advanced technologies with traditional tanning techniques, the laboratory has conducted much original research on the design and manufacture of functional leather, bringing the benefits of the latest knowledge to a thousand-year-old industry.
One such advance is the laboratory’s work on the design and manufacture of ultra-wideband electromagnetic (EM) shielding leather. Leather materials can normally absorb low frequency EM waves in the range of 10- 500 MHz, making it an ideal material for microwave-absorptive substrate. Coating leather surface with a low-dimensional conductive nanomaterial, Shi Bi, an academician of the CAE and the laboratory’s director, along with his research team prepared a material with high-performance shielding ability in a broad frequency range (10 MHz-12 GHz).
Under the process, some EM waves are first reflected by the conductive layer consisted of nanomaterials, then when passing through the conductive layer, they decay and are transformed to low-frequency EM waves absorbable by the leather substrate. Ultra-wideband EM shielding is achieved through the high reflectivity and absorption capacity of the nanocomposite leather material.
“This high-performance shielding material is lightweight and can be tailored into wearable clothing,” says Shi. “It has great potential for applications in human body EM shielding, precision instruments immune to EM interference and EM signal blocking.”
The laboratory also fabricated super-hydrophobic and scratch-resistant leather by applying nanotechnology in the surface modification of collagen nanofibres in the material’s hierarchically fibrous structure. When scratched, the nano structure in the specially-treated material will automatically repair the destroyed hydrophobic structure, resulting in “in-situ self-repair”. This super-hydrophobic leather material could be used to make outdoor products and self-cleaning clothes.
The lab’s research has won global recognition for China’s leather industry. Shi was elected the president of the International Union of Leather Technologists and Chemists Society (IULTCS) in 2010 and won the IULTCS Merit Award in 2015 for the extraordinary impact of his work.