Lithium Batteries Power Korea Ahead

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"Market entry barriers are high because of large investments needed for research and production facilities."

As part of President Lee Myung-bak's push for a green growth agenda to help combat climate change, the nation's automobile industry is increasingly focusing on producing electric vehicles to replace ones with carbon-emitting engines that pollute the environment.

The shift is creating what is hoped to be one of Korea's growth industries; the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries to power the electric vehicles by some of the country's leading chemical companies.

The current leader in the local EV battery sector is LG Chem, which recently completed the construction of the world's largest lithium-ion battery plant in Ochang, North Chungcheong.

The attendance of President Lee at the plant opening underscored the government's recognition that EV batteries will play a key role in the green growth agenda.

Korea is likely to face increased competition in the rechargeable battery industry from Japan and China.

Japan has traditionally been the global leader in rechargeable batteries. Although hybrid vehicles have been powered by nickel-metal hydride batteries, it is seen as only a matter of time before the Japanese catch up in lithium-ion technology or develop new types of batteries.

Peter Bahnsuk Kim, LG Chem vice chairman and CEO, emphasized that developing a safe and well-performing EV battery cannot be achieved overnight.

Instead this is the result of years of research. Although small companies may have created a decent product in lab-scale pilot productions, it is a whole new story when it comes to mass production.

Kim added that market entry barriers are high because of the large investments needed to conduct research and build production facilities.

Kim said cost will be the crucial factor in pushing the global automobile industry to adopt electric vehicles since prices still remain high and governments often need to subsidize consumer purchases through various measures.

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