YUYAO, CHINA (Nov. 7, 2:35 p.m. ET) — South Korea's Honam Petrochemical Corp. is expanding its compounding capacity in China and adding long-fiber reinforced thermoplastic composite manufacturing in the United States, part of a push to bring newly developed fiber and nanocomposite plastics to global markets.
The Seoul-based company has commercialized manufacturing of lightweight plastic door modules and bumper beams made of long fiber materials in Korean cars, for example, and sees significant potential worldwide as auto makers look to reduce car weight, a company executive said Nov. 7 at a conference in China.
Honam will add 50,000 metric tons of compounding capacity at its factory in Hefei, Anhui Province, next year, giving it a total of 70,000 metric tons capacity there, at the same time as it will start manufacturing its long-fiber LFT composite plastics at its new factory in Auburn, Ala., said Dong Woo Lee, research director at Honam's Daedeok Research Institute in Daejeon, South Korea.
The company plans to have 3,000 metric tons of LFT capacity in Alabama on-stream in January, the same amount of LFT production it has at a facility in Jiaxing, China, Lee said in an interview at the 7th China Plastic Industry Development International Forum, held Nov. 7-8 in Yuyao.
The company told journalists earlier this year it would have 15,000 metric tons of plastics capacity in the Alabama plant by 2013.
Honam is also considering adding compounding capacity in the United States, Europe and Malaysia, Lee said, although no final decisions have been made.
In a speech at the Yuyao conference, Lee said the company is putting significant research into higher-tech lightweight materials for automotive and electronics markets. The U.S. LFT investment, for example, is for U.S. factories of South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Hyundai Motor Co., Lee said.
Honam last year commercialized a rear bumper back beam manufacturing process, using LFT composite materials to produce a part that's between 15 and 25 percent lighter than metal or all-plastic bumper beams it could replace, Lee said.
The company has patents on both the material and the “complicated” compression-injection molding technology, he said. The bumper was used on a 2010 Hyundai Sonata model.
Honam also commercialized a plastic door module in 2009, Korea's first, and has seen it used in eight car models, with six more under development, he said.
The door module is 30 percent lighter than the metal parts it replaces and increases productivity by reducing the number of separate parts needed by 20 percent, the company said.
As well, Honam has developed a thermoplastic olefin nanocomposite material that can be used to reduce weight in exterior and interior automotive parts like side moldings and pillar trim, Lee said.
The company sees significant opportunities internationally. Lee said European car makers, for example, have targets of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from 130 grams per kilometer next year to 95 grams per kilometer in 2020.
“We can estimate that lightweight plastics will have a major role in reducing emissions,” he said.
The South Korean company has been expanding globally recently, buying a majority stake in Malaysia's Titan Chemical Corp. for US$913 million in July 2010, which Lee characterized as a “turning point” in Honam's globalization.
Honam's parent company, South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group, wants Honam Petrochemical's sales to be US$40 billion in 2018, four times today's level, he said.
The conference was organized by China Petroleum and Chemical Industry Federation, the China National Light Industry Council and U.S. consulting firm IHS Inc. and its Chemical Week magazine subsidiary.