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fuel-cell electric vehicles

[Upcoming IPO] Korean fuel-cell tank maker Iljin Composites gears up to become industry champion

By Sep 04, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

The production of fuel-cell tanks is in full swing at Iljin Composites' factory, a restricted area tightly guarded with strict identification controls for entry. This is common procedure for companies with high risk of trade secret misappropriation, and especially so for Iljin Composites as one of only two companies in the world that make Type 4 composite fuel tanks, the most advanced of its kind.

Iljin Composites is South Korea’s sole provider of composite fuel tanks to power fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). It is also the exclusive supplier of fuel tanks for Nexo, a fuel-cell vehicle manufactured by the world’s third-largest automobile manufacturer Hyundai Motor Company.

In addition to Nexo, the Korean company has been selected to supply fuel tanks and modules for Hyundai Motor’s FCEV police buses, wide-area buses as well as FCEV transit buses.

Fuel tank used in Nexo, Hyundai Motors' FCEV

The steady rise in the FCEV market has put the company on the radar due to its growth potential. FCEVs are full of promise given their short refueling time, higher efficiency compared to gasoline and diesel, and a longer travel range -- among other highly attractive customer benefits.

The high-tech material arm of Iljin Group is pressing forward to become a frontrunner in the global fuel-cell market set to exceed $11.6 billion by 2025.

The market is also backed by support from the Korean government, who released a hydrogen economy roadmap in 2019; pledging to roll out 40,000 fuel cell-powered electric buses by 2040, and 20,000 wide-area buses by 2030. The government's eco-friendly agenda has drawn investor attention to companies such as Iljin Composites, which plans to increase its facilities in accordance with the roadmap.

Fuel-cell tanks provide a core energy source for FCEVs, and Iljin Composites alongside Japan’s Toyota are the only manufacturers of Type 4 composite fuel tanks. Type 4 tanks are made of fiber composite material and wrapped in carbon fiber, making them much lighter and more durable than traditional fuel tanks.

Iljin Composites CEO Kim Ki-hyun explains fuel-cell tanks

“We began our research in 2003 and since then we have successfully commercialized Type 4 fuel tanks, earning unrivaled status when it comes to fuel-cell technology,” said Kim Ki-hyun, the company’s chief executive officer. “We supply products that are lighter and more cost-effective than Toyota's,” he added.

Iljin Composites raised around 70 billion won ($58.8 million) in 2019 to further construct additional plants and facilities as an investment into the company's fuel-tank operations. The company plans to go public as early as 2021 after mandating advisors, Kim said.

The company's efforts have not gone unnoticed. Iljin Composites’ revenue surged from 28.5 billion won ($24 million) in 2018 to 88.5 billion won ($74.3 million) in 2019. The company is expected to touch 1 trillion won ($842.4 million) in revenue by 2027, according to the securities industry.

Earlier this year when the coronavirus broke out, fuel-cell powered drones delivered government-rationed masks to island residents who were not able to reach drug stores. This was made possible by fuel-cell tanks that quadrupled the drones' flying time. Going forward, Iljin Composites expects to see increased demand for fuel-tanks in commercial vehicles such as trucks, buses, drones, as well as ships and trains.

The promising outlook in the market has prompted the company to set its sights on the global market.

“Fuel-cell powered vehicles will have a competitive advantage in the global commercial automobile market,” said Kim. He added that the company is in talks with companies in the US and Europe to discuss commercial vehicle projects.

The company, formerly known as Korea Composite Research Center Corp, was acquired by Iljin Group in 2011 after the group determined heavy growth potential in the fuel tank business. Its parent company Iljin Diamond holds a 86.9% stake.

Write to Dong-hyun Kim at



Danbee Lee edited this article

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