SKC ties up with Japan's TBM to produce new eco-friendly material 'biodegradable LIMEX'

By Lim Chang-won Posted : September 16, 2021, 12:36 Updated : September 16, 2021, 12:36

[Courtesy of SKC]

SEOUL -- SKC, a leading polyester film and chemical material manufacturer in South Korea, tied up with TBM, a Japanese startup, to set up a joint venture for the production of a new eco-friendly material for food containers and disposable products by applying biodegradable material technology to LIMEX, a limestone-based material which can become alternative to paper and plastic.

TBM has commercialized LIMEX produced from calcium carbonate (CaCO3), which is derived from limestone, and a small amount of polymeric resin added as a binder. The joint venture named "SK TBMGEOSTONE" aims to produce biodegradable LIMEX from 2023 and expand the use of biodegradable LIMEX to interior materials for construction and cars. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

Although the demand for biodegradable materials has been on the rise, the price of biodegradable materials was higher than that of ordinary plastic materials, limiting market expansion. SKC affiliated with South Korea's third-largest conglomerate, SK Group, thinks that biodegradable LIMEX would have price competitiveness because it uses up to 80 percent of limestone. TBM's LIMEX contains more than 50 percent of limestone

Biodegradable LIMEX increased eco-friendly characteristics by mixing limestone with biodegradable resins -- polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT) and polylactic acid (PLA) -- that decompose in nature in a short period of time instead of plastic resins. SKC commercialized a biodegradable PLA film packaging material in 2009.

PLA is a biodegradable plastic based on lactic acid that is produced by fermenting and refining glucose extracted from corn and is mainly used for food packaging containers and tableware. It comprises an eco-friendly material that is naturally decomposed in several months by microorganisms under certain conditions.

PBAT is a biodegradable random copolymer marketed as a fully biodegradable alternative to low-density polyethylene. It is used such as plastic bags and wraps. PBAT makes it ideal for combination with other biodegradable polymers that have high elastic modulus and strength but are very brittle.

In May 2020, SKC joined hands with the state-run Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology (KRICT) for a state project to commercialize biodegradable high-strength bioplastics capable of replacing refractory plastic materials by adding nanocellulose reinforcement extracted from wood pulp to ordinary PBAT. The new high-strength PBAT overcomes the weakness of tearing or stretching easily to have tensile strength at the level of widely used petroleum plastics. It can replace refractory plastic materials such as disposable plastic bags and injection products.
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