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[Weekender] Big businesses dig for ‘blue gold’ market

South Korean conglomerates are cashing in on the promising global water market, with the water shortage emerging as a global agenda.

According to Global Water Intelligence, a U.K.-based water industry research firm, the size of the world’s water treatment market is forecast to expand up to $1 trillion by the end of 2015.

Betting on the industry’s high growth potential, Korean players have sharpened their competitiveness in the “blue gold’’ sector, where European water giants like Veolia and Suez dominate, in an effort to find a new growth engine.

A seawater desalination plant in Saudi Arabia, equipped with multi-effect distillation technology,built by Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction in 2012 (Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction)
A seawater desalination plant in Saudi Arabia, equipped with multi-effect distillation technology,built by Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction in 2012 (Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction)

Water businesses have become diversified as well, ranging from fresh water supply to waste water treatment and seawater desalination.

Local firms’ share of the global market remains negligible at 1.6 percent, but their presence is increasing.

Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction is a leading South Korean water business, specializing in seawater desalination.

As of 2013, Doosan held 40 percent of the global market for desalination plants, which turn seawater into potable water.

According to the company, it has built 27 desalination plants overseas since 1978, which produce and supply 6.4 million metric tons of water on a daily basis.

Other Korean heavyweights eyeing the water industry include LG Group and SK Group, the country’s fourth- and fifth-largest conglomerates, respectively.

LG’s efforts in the field are led by its chemicals firm LG Chem, which focuses on water treatment.

SK’s water business is spearheaded by Huvis, a joint venture between SK Chemical and Samyang.

Kolon Group is also throwing its weight behind the water treatment business.

Kolon has been pursuing related businesses aiming to develop its water business into a new growth engine.

Since acquiring a former state-run water treatment company in 2007, Kolon has expanded its related businesses by providing its solutions to 600 water treatment facilities nationwide at home, and entered China and other overseas markets.

“Korean water solution providers are currently turning to the energy sector, in particular, setting their eyes on growing demand for advanced water treatment solutions for petroleum and gas processing plants,’’ an industry source said.

By Suk Gee-hyun(monicasuk@heraldcorp.com)
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