SK Innovation is considering supplying electric vehicle (EV) battery separators to its Korean competitors. If Japan's export restrictions on EV battery separators become a reality, it will deal a serious blow to Korean companies that are developing EVs.
"Although we are competing with domestic companies in the field of batteries and have been even sued by a Korean competitor for alleged encroachment upon trade secrets, we will consider supplying separators if we receive a request," an SK Innovation official said. "Nothing is more important than the protection of the domestic industrial ecosystem and the national interest."
SK Innovation is producing Li-ion battery separators (LiBSs) through its subsidiary SK IEE Technology, which was spun off into an independent firm in April, and has the second largest market share in the world. SK Innovation boasts a high yield by adopting a new process that can produce thin and uniform thickness products by stretching separators back and forth and right and left.
SK Innovation began a commercial operation of a battery separator production line in 2005 based on its high technology. Currently, it is mass-producing them at 11 lines of Jeungpyeong Factory in North Chungcheong Province. The company plans to increase the number of related lines to 13 in November. Its Changzhou Factory in Jiangsu Province, China, which is currently under construction, is scheduled to start its commercial operation next year. SK Innovation will start the construction of a factory in Slonsk, Poland soon by investing 335 million euros. When completed, the plant will produce about 340 million square meters of battery separators annually.
If these facilities are completed, SK Innovation's battery separator production capacity is expected to grow rapidly from 530 million square meters at the end of this year to 850 million square meters in 2020 and 1.21 billion square meters in 2021. 100 million square meters of separators can produce about 130,500 electric car batteries. In two years, SK Innovation will be able to supply battery separators to about 1.6 million EVs.
Separators must have a high quality as they can determine battery safety as well as battery performance. If a cathode material and an anode material meet due to damage in a separator, it may lead to a fire or explosion. Currently, there are limited companies capable of mass-producing high-quality EV batteries.
In addition to SK Innovation, Japan's Asahi Kasei and Toray are companies with high-quality separator manufacturing technology. Actually LG Chem is known to receive separators from Toray and Samsung SDI to receive separators from Asahi Kasei. These companies are diversifying their supply sources by receiving separators from Iljin Materials in Korea and Shanghai Energy New Materials Technology in China, but it will be inevitable for them to suffer big damage if Japanese export regulations become a reality.
NNA, an internet media outlet affiliated with the Japanese Kyodo News Agency, warned that the competition between Korea and Japan over separators is heating up and Samsung SDI and LG Chem will be hard hit if Japan expands export regulations on Korea to include even separators."
Meanwhile, Chinese separator makers have become happy with the possibility of winning orders from Korean battery makers. In addition to Shanghai Energy New Materials Technology, Shenzhen Senior Technology and Shanghai Energy are producing battery separators for EVs. "If Japanese export restrictions become prolonged, Korean companies should overcome the crisis through cooperation and win-win growth with Korean companies." the SK Innovation official said.