LG Chem, South Korea's leading chemicals firm, said on January 31 that it has started the operation of a plant with an annual capacity of mass-producing up to 400 tons of carbon nanotubes.
The company expects the plant to initially produce around 100 tons this year and to be in full operation at the end of next year with an annual production of some 400 tons.
Carbon nanotubes are called “new material of dream,” which has extensive industrial applications from secondary batteries to airplane bodies. It has a high level of electric conductivity like that of copper and its heat conductivity is comparable to that of diamonds, and it is 100 times stronger than steel, the company explained.
The chemical firm added that it has spent some 25 billion won (US$21.8 million) to build the plant in Yeosu city, South Jeolla Province. The city is located 455 kilometers south of Seoul.
LG Chem has now come to secure a strong cost competitiveness by developing independently the material superior more than 10 percent in purity, conductivity and strength compared to those of the competitors and establishing a system to mass produce the carbon material.
The world's carbon nanotube market is estimated to grow to 1,335 tons in 2020 from last year's estimated 824 tons. With establishment of the Yeosu plant, LG Chem ranked fourth in the global carbon nanotube industry in terms of production. Currently, China-based SUSN Sinotech is the largest carbon nanotube producer with the production capacity of 600 tons, followed by the US-based C-Nano with 500 tons and Japan-based Showa Denko with 500 tons.
Kumho and Hyosung, the other two domestic carbon nanotube makers, has a capacity of 50 tons and 20 tons, respectively.
LG Chem is expecting a 10 billion won (US$8.5 million) revenue to come from carbon nanotube sales this year. If it runs a full operation, it could reach around 40 billion won (US$34 million). The Korean chemical company is also mulling an expansion of the facility in 2019, depending on the market condition.
"We cannot take the leading position in the increasingly competitive global market just with general-purpose products," said Son Ok-dong, chief of the firm's basic materials business division, adding, "LG Chem plans to lead the next generation material market by making aggressive investments in research and development (R&D) not only for carbon nanotubes, but for other potential materials.”
In the meantime, the global carbon nanotube market is predicted to reach 1,335 tons in 2020 from 824 tons in 2016 with an average annual growth of more than 10 percent, according to Japan-based Yano Research Institute.
Last week, LG Chem announced that it posted an operating profit of 461.7 billion won (US$394.7 million) in the fourth-quarter of 2016, up 31 percent from a year earlier, which was driven mainly by a robust growth in its basic materials business.