Knowledge atlas Science

Refalett GmbH, Natural fibre recycling

DE_18_Refalett_Textile Recycling_Product_2

Refalett GmbH is located in the middle of the picturesque Mulde Valley - surrounded by green forests and only around twenty minutes away from the Saxon mining town of Freiberg. The plant currently employs 35 people. The products are shipped worldwide from Europe to America and Asia. The leather products are mainly used in the shoe industry as midsoles or so-called rear caps, the stiffening of the heel area. During the First World War, processes for manufacturing leather fibre products were developed simultaneously in Italy, the USA and Germany. From around 1920, Kötitzer Ledertuch- und Wachstuchwerke AG, based near Coswig near Dresden, produced leather fibre fabrics, which experienced a veritable boom. With the takeover of the Siebenlehner paper mill, an additional production facility was created in which the two existing Fourdrinier machines could continue to be used for the production of leather fibre materials. In the GDR, VEB (Volkseigener Betrieb) Lederfaserwerk Siebenlehn was the largest manufacturer of leather fibre material. Today, the expertise and machines are used to give a new lease of life not only to the valuable raw material leather, but also to worn jeans and even coffee grounds and paper cups.

Name of Field in the local language
Naturfaserrecycling
Area of Expertise
Recycling and Preparation of fibres from leather, cotton, flax, hemp, etc. in all processing states
Scientists / Scientific team
Wolfram Süß, Dipl. Ingenieur, CSO Refalett GmbH, Siebenlehn; FILK Freiberg Institute gGmbH (Independent, non-university research institution with accredited testing laboratory. Compentence in polymers.); Sächsisches Textilforschungsinstitut e.V. (STFI) in Chemnitz (Non-profit Association, Textile Related Research Institute in Saxony)
Location, Institution, Website
Siebenlehn, Freiberg
Contact
Wolfram Süß, Refalett GmbH, Steyermühle 1, 09603 Großschirma, OT Siebenlehn. e-mail: wsuess@refalett.de
Type of Institution
Company. Cooperations with Universities and Research Centers.

Laboratory and research space
Factory hall, laboratories of the cooperation partners
Materials and equipment
Natural fibres of various origins (leather waste, textile recycling). Natural binders: Latex and bone glue Petrochemical binders: Acrylic resins (also possible from natural origin). Fillers: coffee grounds
Technology / Tools / Machines
Special machine based on a Fourdrinier system for paper production. Shredding line with refiners for fibre preparation. Mixing vats for blending the fibres with binders. Various finishing systems.
Research Methods / Processes
Test series with different binders Design and production of prototypes from the finished panels. Collaboration with practice partners (OWI, Abet Laminati, MIA, Trabbatoni Stampi, Planq, BASF...). Collaboration with research institutes: Sächsisches Textilforschungsinstitut e.V. (STFI), FILK Freiberg Institute gGmbH, Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg, a.o.

Most impactful project
Based on leather recycling, a new product category has emerged in the form of pure textile fibre materials and, above all, "hard binders". The materials have leather-like properties in the "soft" version, but are made from 100% vegan materials and are fully recyclable. This is important, as artificial leather or "vegan leather alternatives" are generally made largely from petroleum-based plastics, which are not recyclable due to their layered structure and are also criticised for their high CO2 emissions and the use of harmful chemicals. The upcycling materials are 100% recyclable and can be recycled again after use - bound CO2 remains permanently stored. Thanks to further development of the binding agent, the manufactured boards can also be adjusted to a hardness similar to wood fibre boards. This creates a recycled substitute for conventional wood fibreboard materials. Flat gluing (similar to multiplex) and moulded gluing (chair shells) are possible.

Awards, certifications, or scientific recognition
EKU Idee 2022 - Zukunftspreis für Energie, Klima, Umwelt in Sachsen. EKU Erfolg 2023 - Zukunftspreis für Energie, Klima, Umwelt in Sachsen