In February of last year, Baek Jong-beom, a professor at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), developed the technology for obtaining hydrogen from water using ruthenium. This technology has been called a crucial breakthrough as it costs only 4% compared with the current method that uses platinum as a catalyst.
Ruthenium price soared afterwards. Ruthenium cost US$40 to US$80 an ounce previously, but the price surged right after the paper was out and recently hit US$270. This is because China took over many ruthenium mines in South Africa.
"China made quick moves to secure ruthenium, but Korea which developed the technology earlier, has not done that," professor Baek said on Nov. 15. “Even though Korea developed the technology, it seems that it will be China that will make money thanks to the technology.”
The hydrogen economy had been emphasized for more than a decade, but even though Korea succeeded in developing the key technology to achieve the hydrogen economy, the Korean government did not take additional measures for its commercialization.
In 2005, the government mapped out a hydrogen economy master plan. However, following a government change, the Korean government was negligent about creating a hydrogen ecosystem for more than 10 years while Japan and Germany secured key technologies such as hydrogen compression and liquefaction technology in the meantime.