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Elmo Leather Starts New Treatment Plant


This is the first time that this new and innovative treatment technology is being used for wastewater in the tanning industry. The total cost of the project is around SEK 50 million (EUR 5.45 million), of which around SEK 8.25 million (EUR 900,000) was contributed by the EU´s LIFE environmental fund.

Dynamic environmental policy
According to Elmo Leather´s CEO, Nalle Johansson, the company has been pursuing dynamic environmental policies for many years. Elmo´s management system for environmental work has independent certification and the company has managed to reduce the environmental impact of its activities over the years in terms of waste and emissions to air and water.

By changing processes and chemicals and using traditional techniques we had come as far as it was possible in tackling nitrogen pollution in our wastewater. To make further progress and achieve further improvements we needed to introduce a completely new treatment process for the tanning industry, explains Nalle Johansson.

Micro-organisms eat pollutants
The new innovative technology used by Elmo is based on a process called nitrification/denitrification, which is an advanced form of biological treatment. The technology is used by municipal treatment plants, but has never before been used in the tanning industry because it was considered that the properties in tanning industry wastewater were technically unsuitable.

The new technique means that pollutants are broken down by micro-organisms in the water in a series of processes in which the wastewater is treated in separated, but linked, tanks.

Oxygen is added to the wastewater initially, which increases the number of micro-organisms. In the next stage, the oxygen is cut off and the micro-organisms are forced to eat the pollutants in order to survive.

The outcome is that nitrogen emissions are reduced by 80% as most of the nitrogen-containing pollutants are converted into nitrogen gas, which is the same gas that dominates the atmosphere. Traditional wastewater treatment in the tanning industry cuts nitrogen emissions by around 30%.

Staying in Svenljunga
At the inauguration of the new plant, Nalle Johansson admitted that he shared the concern of people who feared that an increasing amount of industrial production and thereby jobs were being moved out of Sweden. He noted that Elmo Leather had done exactly the opposite in recent years.

We have concentrated our production in Svenljunga and moved production back to Sweden from Denmark and the US, he said.

According to Johansson, after building the new treatment plant, Elmo will base the predominant part of its future production of leather at Svenljunga.

That does not mean that we will exclude the possibility of locating certain parts of production, such as die-cutting and sewing the finished leather, closer to our customers or in places where it is cheaper to perform them. Our core activity, however, the actual manufacturing of leather, will remain in Svenljunga, says Elmo´s CEO.

EU support for innovative technology
The overall cost of the new treatment plant is around SEK 50 million (EUR 5.45 million), of which Elmo contributed around SEK 42 million (EUR 4.5 million). The company also received a subsidy of around SEK 8.25 million (EUR 900,000) from the EU´s LIFE environmental fund.

LIFE provides financing for projects that support environmental protection and nature conservation throughout the EU. The aim is to advance and develop EU environmental policies by supporting reference projects that showcase innovative technology or methods. LIFE projects shall act as good examples of how policies can be converted into action. The supervisory authority for LIFE in Sweden is the National Environmental Protection Agency.

The Treatment Plant
The European leather industry consists of approximately 3000 tanneries. The tanning industry is a potentially pollution intensive industry. The main release from tanneries is into waste water and the industry is consequently the cause of major environmental concerns.

Many cleaner technologies have been developed and implemented over the past years, which have reduced the pollution from tanneries considerably. However, tanneries still produce waste water, which has to be treated with an end-of-pipe solution.

Typically nitrogen concentration is high in wastewater and normally it is difficult to remove nitrogen due to its high solubility. Nitrogen is a major problem in many countries in that it causes the eutrophication of watercourses and the pollution of groundwater, which is a source for drinking water.

Project objectives
The overall objective of the project is to improve water quality in Europe by reduction of the nitrogen discharge from the leather industry. The new wastewater treatment technology will be implemented in the Elmo Leather AB tannery in Sweden. The technology will include nitrification and denitrification processes in the treatment of tannery wastewater to reduce the discharge of nitrogen. The expected reduction of the nitrogen discharge is 80%, in comparison to 30% which is expected to be achieved by traditional technologies.

During the project a new wastewater treatment plant will be built to use nitrification and denitrification processes for nitrogen removal from wastewater from the tannery.

The project results will be disseminated to other tanneries in European countries via associations and industrial organisations.

The following activities will be carried out in order to reach the objectives:
1. Detailed technical design of the plant
2. Building and installation of wastewater treatment plant
3. Test trials of the plant
4. Monitoring of environmental effect
5. Dissemination of information
6. Management and reporting

Elmo Leather AB
Elmo Leather AB was founded in 1931. The Elmo Leather Group is the world´s largest manufacturer of exclusive furniture leather and one of the six biggest suppliers of leather to the automotive industry, and operates worldwide in about 40 different markets.