Dimethylformamide (DMF) is used extensively as a solvent and “texturizer” in the manufacture of polyurethane-based synthetic leather used in sport shoes and partner Nike wished to explore ways to reduce or eliminate the chemical from its production line.
DMF is a known liver toxicant and is associated with several other severe health outcomes. DMF can be easily absorbed by the dermal and respiratory systems, whereafter the liver is the primary target organ. Overall, DMF is a high or moderate hazard for the endpoints of carcinogenicity and mutagenicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, endocrine activity, neurotoxicity, and skin and eye irritation. It is also a very effective solvent, however, and is used extensively because of its miscibility with water and operational range of temperature and pressure among other factors.
The DMF team focused on three strategies for intervention: drop-in solvent replacement, production process change and functional material change, and were able to recommend five drop-in replacements, suggest a strategy toward water-borne polyurethane (PU) dispersions, and one toward the use of mycelium-based material substitutions.