SKC sets up joint venture with two domestic firms to produce biodegradable PBAT

By Lim Chang-won Posted : November 23, 2021, 16:27 Updated : November 23, 2021, 16:27

[Courtesy of SKC]

SEOUL -- SKC, a leading polyester film and chemical material manufacturer in South Korea, will set up a joint venture with two domestic companies to produce polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT), a biodegradable random copolymer marketed as a fully biodegradable alternative to low-density polyethylene.

The joint venture tentatively named "Ecovance" will build a plant capable of producing 70,000 tons of high-strength PBAT annually from 2023, using nanocellulose extracted from trees as a reinforcing material. Nanocellulose is a light solid substance obtained from plant matter which comprises nanosized cellulose fibrils. It is pseudo-plastic and possesses the property of specific kinds of fluids or gels that are generally thick in normal conditions.

SKC would invest 104 billion won ($87 million) to own 57.8 percent of the joint venture and provide technology, operational know-how, and R&D capabilities. Daesang, a major food material and product company, will secure 22.2 percent with an injection of 40 billion won and supply butanediol as a biomass raw material. LX International, a trading firm, will invest 36 billion won to hold 20 percent and is in charge of sales.

"SKC will continue to make efforts to strengthen its eco-friendly biodegradable material business and build an ecosystem that contributes to solving plastic issues while accelerating its pyrolysis oil business that turns waste plastics into resources," an unnamed SKC official said in a statement on November 23. 

In 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 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.
In September 2021, SKC tied up with TBM, a Japanese startup, to set up a joint venture for the production of a new eco-friendly material by applying biodegradable material technology to LIMEX, a limestone-based material that can become an 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.

SKC thinks that biodegradable LIMEX would have price competitiveness because it uses up to 80 percent of limestone. Biodegradable LIMEX increased eco-friendly characteristics by mixing limestone with biodegradable resins that decompose in nature in a short period of time instead of plastic resins. 

SKC commercialized a biodegradable polylactic acid (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.

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