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Carbon neutrality

LG Chem, GS Caltex to produce biodegradable plastic material

Agree to jointly develop mass-production technology of 3HP with a target of its prototype production from 2023

By Nov 19, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

LG Chem CEO Shin Hak-cheol (left) and GS Caltex CEO Hur Sae-hong sign a deal to develop mass-production technology for 3HP and make its prototype
LG Chem CEO Shin Hak-cheol (left) and GS Caltex CEO Hur Sae-hong sign a deal to develop mass-production technology for 3HP and make its prototype

South Korea’s top petrochemical maker LG Chem Ltd. and the No. 2 refiner GS Caltex Corp. have agreed to jointly produce a biodegradable plastic material for cooperation in eco-friendly raw materials as they step up efforts for environmental, social and governance (ESG) management.

LG Chem and GS Caltex said on Nov. 18 they signed a deal to develop mass-production technology for hydroxypropionic acid (3HP), a biodegradable plastic material, and make its prototype.

“It is significant for two leading companies in the refining and the petrochemical sectors to cooperate for development and commercialization of sustainable raw materials,” said  LG Chem CEO Shin Hak-cheol in a statement. “We will lead future technologies to protect environment and society with a focus on R&D in the eco-friendly materials sector.”

The global bioplastic market is expected to near triple to 34 trillion won ($28.7 billion) by 2026 from 12 trillion won in 2021, according to market research firms.

AIM TO PRODUCE 3HP PROTOTYPE FROM 2023

3HP, developed by LG Chem, is an eco-friendly material produced through a microorganism fermenting process of bio-materials such as glucose and unrefined glycerol, derived from vegetable oil. It decomposes naturally within months by microorganisms under certain conditions. That contrasted to regular plastics, which take about a century to decay.

The material is drawing attention as a next-generation platform chemical that can be used for not only biodegradable plastics but also super absorbent polymers (SAP) used in diapers, paints, adhesives and glues, coating materials, carbon fiber, etc.

LG Chem, which has the world’s top proprietary 3HP fermenting technologies, developed Poly Lactate 3-Hydroxypropionate (PLH), a new biodegradable material that configured mechanical properties equivalent to synthetic resins for the first time in the world in October 2020.

The two companies agreed to work on mass production and commercialization of 3HP with LG Chem’s fermented production technologies and GS Caltex’s process facility capabilities. They aim to produce a 3HP prototype from 2023 in order to make inroads into the biodegradable materials and various bioplastic markets sooner. In addition, LG Chem and GS Caltex plan to cooperate on white biotechnology, techniques to produce chemical products with renewable materials.

Their cooperation in those sectors is expected to contribute to carbon neutrality and help solve problems on microplastics. They have been accelerating moves for ESG management through the development and production of eco-friendly materials.

LG Chem in July announced it will invest 3 trillion won by 2025 to nurture eco-friendly bioplastic as one of its three new growth engines. Last year, it unveiled a sustainability strategy, focusing on carbon-neutral growth by 2025, for the first time in the domestic petrochemical industry.

GS Caltex is also developing and producing various eco-friendly products to contribute to a circular economy, an economic system that minimizes the use of resource inputs,  waste, pollution and carbon emissions.

“Through our cooperation in developing eco-friendly materials, the two companies will contribute to a circular economy and carbon reduction while creating an economic value with high value-added products,” said GS Caltex CEO Hur Sae-hong.

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

Jongwoo Cheon edited this article.

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