Journal of Cleaner Production
Substitution of chemical dehairing by proteases from solid-state fermentation of hair wastes
Juliana Abraham, Teresa Gea, Antoni Sánchez
The leather industry uses a chemical dehairing process that produces alkaline wastewater and hair as solid waste. A cleaner process is proposed in this work to reduce these environmental impacts. It consists on the valorization of hair waste together with sludge from wastewater treatment by a solid-state fermentation process to obtain proteases that can be used in an enzymatic dehairing process. SSF was undertaken in 4.5 L scale reactors. Neither sterilization of the materials nor inoculation of pure microorganisms was necessary for the development of the process, whereas aeration was provided during the assay to ensure the prevalence of aerobic conditions. Alkaline proteases were produced as a consequence of the degradation of hair. The highest activity of the alkaline protease in crude extracts was determined at 14 days of the process (56270 ± 2632 activity units/g dry sample), after the thermophilic stage. The final organic matter showed a stability degree similar to that of compost in terms of respiration activity. Potential application of the extracted proteases in dehairing cow hides was successfully proved as an alternative to the chemical dehairing process. The results in the efficiency of the dehairing process were similar to those obtained with the chemical process, thus avoiding the need of chemical reagents and strong chemical conditions. The entire process permits the substitution of the chemical process of dehairing by an environmentally friendly enzymatic process, closing the organic matter cycle.