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Hyosung develops high-strength carbon fibers

Hyosung Corp., a Korean maker of chemicals and automatic teller machines, said Tuesday it has developed the country’s first high-strength carbon fibers, paving the way for the next-generation fabrics that are lighter, stronger and more elastic.

The ultra-thin materials have stepped into the limelight in recent years as their low weight, high-tensile strength and temperature tolerance made them desirable for use in aerospace, defense, civil engineering and sports.

The company said it plans to build a plant in Jeonju, about 243 kilometers south of Seoul, to manufacture 2,000 tons of T-700 carbon fibers a year by investing 250 billion won ($231 million) through 2013.

It will then spend an additional 950 billion won to raise annual output to 17,000 tons by 2020, Hyosung added, which would create about 1,000 new jobs.

“With our achievement, it became possible to produce Korean carbon fibers and reduce dependence on imports for the novel materials,” said Lee Sang-woon, vice chairman and chief operating officer of Hyosung.

“Hyosung will grow to become a global top-class carbon fiber company in 2020 by concentrating our abilities on developing high-quality, cost-competitive materials.”

The breakthrough resulted from a three-year joint research project with the Jeonju Machinery Research Center in North Jeolla Province, where an eco-friendly industrial complex is being established.

The T-700 carbon fibers are 10 times stronger than steel but only 20 percent its weight, the developers said.

Competition is likely to intensify as demand soars at home and abroad.

Korea has until now relied on imports for all of its carbon fiber needs. Some companies including Taekwang Industrial Co. dived into the business more than a decade ago and developed lower-grade T-300 fibers, but failed to commercialize. Toray Advanced Material Korea Inc., a local unit of the world’s top carbon fiber manufacturer based in Japan, recently began production here.

According to the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, the local market, valued at 2,400 tons per year or close to $100 million at present, is expanding at an annual rate of 11 percent.

The global market is projected to more than double to $5 billion by 2020 from the current $2 billion, or 50,000 tons a year.

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)
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