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 automakers look to reduce car weight, a company executive said at a conference in Yuyao.
Honam will add compounding capacity at its factory in Hefei, China, next year, giving it a total of 154 million pounds of capacity there. At the same time, it will start manufacturing its LFRT 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 7 million pounds of LFRT capacity in Alabama on-stream in January, the same amount it has at a facility in Jiaxing, China, Lee said in an interview at the China Plastic Industry Development International Forum, held Nov. 7-8.
The company told journalists earlier this year it would have 33 million pounds of plastics capacity in the Alabama plant by 2013.
Honam also might add compounding capacity in the U.S., 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. Honam's U.S. LFRT 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 LFRT composite materials to produce a part that's 15-25 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.
Also, 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 carmakers, for example, aim to reduce 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, 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 reach 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.