Special Feature: South Korea - Building a strong composites base

 

Special Feature - South Korea building a strong composites base
The global carbon fiber market is expected to double in size between 2010 and 2020. At present, the global market size is around 60,000 tons. South Korea now manufactures around 8% of global carbon fiber capacity.

Toray Advanced Materials Korea is producing approximately 4,700 tons of carbon fiber. The company recently started production at its new carbon fiber material plant in Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province. The company will invest 325 billion won by 2021 to produce carbon fiber materials used mainly for lightweight automotive materials, as well as non-woven fabric and polyester film. Toray intends to invest about 5 trillion won in Korea by 2030.

Hyosung and Taekwang Industry are producing 2,000 tons and 1,500 tons respectively. The two companies started their carbon fiber production operations in 2013. Hyosung is investing in its existing factories, particularly at its Jeonju plant, to expand annual production volume of its High Performance Grade carbon fiber to 14,000 tons by 2020. This product is composed of High Strength Grade and Intermediate Modulus Grade; the core grade products that occupy more than 70% of the carbon fiber demand in the world. They are widely used for various industries, but particularly sports/leisure and aviation. Hyosung’s research and development team aims to build upon their existing fiber technology to bring new carbon fiber products to meet the needs of their customers. Its carbon fiber Tansome is becoming increasingly popular in Europe.

 

Carbon Valley Project

The South Korean government has provided significant funding to boost the country’s carbon fiber industry, with the goal of exporting 8 million USD worth of carbon fiber products by 2020. Part of this investment has been to establish two industrial complexes specializing in carbon materials, both located in Jeollabuk-do Province.

The goal is to make Jeollabuk-do an internationally thriving region for research, development, and industry in areas such as carbon fibers, artificial graphite, and carbon polymers, to meet the rising need for these materials in the automobile, aircraft, electronic, wind energy, and other renewable energy industries.

South Korea is one of the top five consumers of carbon materials but relies primarily on imports from Japan, the United States, and the European Union to meet its demand. Through the Carbon Valley Project, Korea aims to establish domestic suppliers of carbon fibers as well as develop advanced technology for carbon-based composite materials.

As a result, the Jeollabuk-do Province has attracted high-tech research institutes as well as major Korean automobile-related companies such as Hyundai, Daewoo, Mobis and Kia, who have established manufacturing facilities in this area. Carbon fiber manufacturers or their suppliers in the area include Hyosung, Taekwang, GS Caltex, Samsung General Chemicals and SK Chemicals.

Some of the other carbon-related laboratories and companies in the area include the Korea Advanced Nano Fab Center, part of the national core of research infrastructure focused on nanodevices and compound semiconductors; a branch of the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST, see below); Hanwha Nanotech Corporation, a company that produces carbon nanotubes (CNT) and CNT-based composites; and Vinatech, a company specializing in carbon electrodes.

Located in the heart of the Carbon Valley is the Korea Institute of Carbon Convergence Technology (KCTECH), which has a global network of 13 institutes in eight countries. KCTECH is mainly focused on the topics of composite materials and lightweight construction, particularly but not solely in the machinery, automotive and aviation components industries. It is also playing a key role in the promotion of the local economy by attracting and supporting local businesses.

The Carbon Valley Project will also enable the nurturing of around 20 start-ups in the carbon fiber sector. Through these start-ups, a carbon fiber ecosystem will be built, encompassing carbon fiber materials to parts and end products.

 

Innovative CFRP recycling technology

The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) in Seoul is a multi-disciplinary government research institute established to aid the development of South Korea’s growing carbon fiber composite materials industry. It specializes in supporting Korean companies in the research, evaluation and introduction of new technologies into production environments.

One of the drawbacks of CFRP its complex disposal and recycling. The Carbon Convergence Materials Research Center of KIST has successfully developed a technology to recycle CFRP efficiently and reuse it as carbon fiber material.

The technique involves processing CFRP waste using water and other additives to extract high-value carbon fiber. The processing cost is 1,500 won ($1.34) for every kilogram of CFRP, which is about 40% of the cost of conventional high-temperature processing. This CFRP recycling technology is both economical and environmentally friendly, and can be commercialized immediately.

 

Aviation

Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) and Korean Air Aerospace Division are both active in composite part production for the majors. KAI, for example, supplies parts for the Airbus A320 and A350, and the Boeing 787, as well as the Airbus A350 XWB’s main landing gear door and bay.

A booming new application area for composites in aviation is drones. Hankuk Carbon recently entered into partnership with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), one of the world’s premier military drone makers. It could propel Hankuk into a position as Korea’s leading military drone maker. Japan’s Mitsui recently bought a 10% stake in Hankuk Carbon. The two companies seek to respond to the need for lighter transportation equipment by developing materials and parts made of carbon fiber and other composites. Mitsui also recently entered the Drone as a Service (DAAS) business.

South Korea clearly has a strong composites industry, with local processors supported by local carbon fiber and resin suppliers, and the country looks set to continue to be at the forefront of developments in composite materials and techniques.

 

Written by Denzil Walton

Denzil Walton is a technical copywriter, editor and conference reporter. He has over 30 years’ experience writing on a variety of industrial and high-tech topics.

 

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