South Korea’s major chemical companies are accelerating research and development (R&D) and commercialization of environmentally friendly plastics. Eco-friendly plastics are becoming an issue of growing importance around the globe and there is a growing interest in environment protection in the country due to non-biodegradable plastic trash problems.
SK Chemicals Co. is most actively seeking to develop polylactic acid (PLA), a bioplastic derived from renewable biomass, typically from fermented plant starch such as from corn, cassava, sugarcane or sugar beet pulp. The company has been developing biodegradable plastic materials since the early 1990s, ahead of other domestic chemical firms. However, it failed to commercialize them. In 2012, SK Chemicals developed flexible PLA resin for packing films. Expectations are growing that the firm will be able to begin selling PLA products early next year. Biodegradable plastics are completely degraded into water, carbon dioxide or methane within a few months by the action of microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungus and algae.
Lotte Chemical Corp. has been expanding R&D on eco-friendly products and technologies to cope with the green plastic issue. The company is operating an “innovation group” within its research center based on the concept of 5R – reuse, reduce, recycle, replacement and resign.
In addition, it is considering plans to produce biodegradable products or environment-friendly products made with waste plastics in cooperation with Lotte Group’s affiliates. Lotte Chemical succeeded in producing bio PET which was made with bio ethylene glycol extracted from plant resources, including sugar cane, in 2012 for the first time among domestic companies.
Hanwha Chemical Corp. supplies eco-friendly plasticizer “ECO-DEHCH” to the country’s major wallpaper companies. A plasticizer is used as an additive to make plastics flexible. Regulations on phthalate plasticizers are globally being reinforced due to controversy over harmfulness of the endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The company has commercialized the ECO-DEHCH for the first time in the world after eight years of development.
SK Global Chemical Co. has developed high crystalline polypropylene plastic (HCPP) and lowered the amount of plastic usage by 10 percent compared to general-purpose plastics. HCPP has much higher strength so it can have the same effect with a small quantity. It is mostly used in automotive interior and exterior materials such as bumper and dashboard. The company is securing its lineups based on green plastic products through automotive business.
Industry analysts say that South Korean chemical companies are developing eco-friendly plastics at a slower pace than foreign ones because of high price barrier, low demand and technical difficulties in commercialization.