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Cold-chain logistics

SK Holdings cryogenic biz eyes jackpot on hopes of imminent COVID-19 vaccine

Nov 13, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

South Korea's SK Holdings Co. may hit the jackpot with the development of a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon.

Once a coronavirus vaccine is available, the holding company of SK Group is expected to be a key beneficiary, given that its cryogenic logistics business has the technology to store vaccines at an ultra-low temperature, according to industry watchers.

Earlier this year, SK Holdings and Goldman Sachs each spent 25 billion won ($22.4 million) to acquire a 20% stake in Korea Superfreeze, the country's largest smart cold-chain logistics complex. Under the deal, SK and Goldman both have the option to inject an additional 12.5 billion won in the company.

Korea Superfreeze cold-chain logistics center

Founded by global private equity firm EMP Belstar in 2014, Korea Superfreeze has the technology to use cold energy extracted from liquefied natural gas (LNG) frozen at minus 162 degrees Celcius to refrigerate vast storage warehouses.

The company's ability to transport products at an ultra-low temperature has drawn attention alongside Pfizer's recent positive results of its phase 3 clinical trials as its coronavirus vaccine candidate must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celcius.

Korea Superfreeze is known to be the country's sole company with the technology and resources to handle the widespread storage of vaccines.

"Given the option to make an additional investment in Korea Superfreeze, we will be able to maximize benefits from investing in the high value-added cryogenic distribution network," said an SK Holdings official.

Incheon New Port, a logistics hub

SK Holdings, alongside EMP Belstar, also plans to participate in a public tender by the Incheon Port Authority (IPA), which is seeking tenants in the cold-chain cluster complex located in Songdo International City.

The IPA is set to announce a preferred bidder as early as January next year. EMP Belstar, a New York-based private equity firm with a focus on energy, logistics and infrastructure, is widely seen as a strong candidate. 

EMP Belstar has been active in both inbound and outbound investment activities in Korea. Earlier in May, the PE firm set up a $580 million fund involving domestic institutional investors to invest in the US Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF) program. 

SK Holdings is the second-largest shareholder of Korea Superfreeze with its 20% stake. The cryogenic logistics company posted 166.4 billion won ($15 million) in revenue last year.

Write to Kyung-min Kang at kkm1026@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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