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Hydrogen economy

Korea Zinc expands from smelter to hydrogen, battery materials maker

Choi Yun-Birm, the smelter’s vice chairman and co-CEO, is leading the shift of the firm’s business focus

By Sep 27, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Korea Zinc is the world's largest lead and zinc smelter
Korea Zinc is the world's largest lead and zinc smelter

Korea Zinc Co., the world’s largest lead and zinc smelter, plans to add a couple of new sectors to the list of its new growth drivers: green hydrogen and battery materials – businesses many leading companies are embracing.

Company officials said on Monday that Korea Zinc aims to make 2021, the year marking its 48th anniversary, the first year to go beyond the non-ferrous metal smelting business to become a leader in the hydrogen and battery material industries.

According to industry officials, Ark Energy, a sister company of Australian zinc producer Sun Metals, which is in turn part of Korea Zinc, earlier this month signed a deal with the Port of Townsville in Queensland on hydrogen exports.

Under the agreement, Ark Energy, a renewable energy firm, will produce liquid hydrogen and export locally produced green hydrogen to Korea through the port.

“The deal marks the start of Korea Zin’s hydrogen business in earnest,” said a Korea Zinc official.

Green hydrogen is the cleanest variety as it uses renewable energy to produce hydrogen from water.

Korea Zinc Vice Chairman & Co-CEO Choi Yun-Birm
Korea Zinc Vice Chairman & Co-CEO Choi Yun-Birm

NO STRANGER TO HYDROGEN BUSINESS

Korea Zinc is no stranger to the hydrogen business.

Earlier this month, the non-ferrous metal smelter was part of big Korean business groups that launched a 15-member hydrogen council, called the Korea H2 Business Summit, to foster hydrogen as a clean energy source and build a strengthened value chain, ranging from production, transport and storage to a wide variety of uses.

The summit is the Korean version of the Hydrogen Council, a global CEO-led initiative to harness the clean energy source.

In mid-September, Korea Zinc also joined the RE100 membership as Korea’s first metal company.

The RE100 or Renewable Energy 100 initiative was first launched by British non-profit organization The Climate Group in 2014, and currently has more than 260 member companies around the globe, including Google, Apple, Ikea and General Motors.

The campaign, which targets companies that use more than 100 GWh per year, prompts them to transition to using 100% renewable energy by 2025 at the earliest.

Korea's top business leaders launched the Korea H2 Business Summit in September
Korea's top business leaders launched the Korea H2 Business Summit in September

BATTERY MATERIALS, ANOTHER GROWTH DRIVER

Led by Choi Yun-Birm, Korea Zinc’s vice chairman and co-CEO, the company is also trying to enter the battery material business through joint ventures to diversify its business portfolio.

In 2018, the company joined hands with LG Chem Ltd. to establish Korea Energy Materials Co. (KEMCO), a JV that produces nickel sulfate, a raw material for lithium-ion batteries and plating.

Korea Zinc and LG Chem are also seeking to build a battery precursor JV. A precursor is a material created by mixing nickel, cobalt and manganese, and is added to lithium to make cathodes.

In March last year, Korea Zinc set up KZAM Corp., a maker of copper foil used in electric vehicle batteries.

Korea Zinc plans to finance its new growth projects with its own money instead of borrowing.

Copper foil is a key raw material for batteries
Copper foil is a key raw material for batteries

As of the end of June, the company had 2.14 trillion won ($1.8 billion) in cash reserves after years of solid business performance.

Boosted by growing demand for zinc and lead in line with the recovering global economy, the company posted a first-half operating profit of 543 billion won on revenue of 4.58 trillion won – record first-half results for the company.

Despite the weak business cycle in recent years, Korea Zinc has been posting an operating profit margin of over 10% every year since 2006, and analysts expect the company to join the trillion won revenue club this year with estimated 2021 sales of 1.08 trillion won.

Write to Kyung-Min Kang at Kkm1026@hankyung.com

In-Soo Nam edited this article.

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