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Hyundai Motor, SK chiefs herald ‘hydrogen alliance’

S. Korea’s No. 2 and No. 3 conglomerates aim to add speed to ‘hydrogen economy’


Officials pose at the Hydrogen Economy Committee meeting held Tuesday at SK Incheon Petrochem. (From left) Incheon Seo-gu district chief Lee Jae-hyun, Incheon Metropolitan City Mayor Park Nam-chun, Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Euisun, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, Hyundai Motor CEO Gong Young-woon, SK E&S CEO Choo Hyeong-wook. (Hyundai Motor Group)
Officials pose at the Hydrogen Economy Committee meeting held Tuesday at SK Incheon Petrochem. (From left) Incheon Seo-gu district chief Lee Jae-hyun, Incheon Metropolitan City Mayor Park Nam-chun, Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Euisun, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, Hyundai Motor CEO Gong Young-woon, SK E&S CEO Choo Hyeong-wook. (Hyundai Motor Group)


Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Euisun and SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won met Tuesday in a top-level talk, giving shape to the “hydrogen alliance” between South Korea’s No. 2 and No. 3 conglomerates.

Their encounter came prior to and in line with the third meeting of the Hydrogen Economy Committee, a state policy panel affiliated with the Prime Minister’s Office that is devoted to adding momentum to the new energy paradigm.

Also catching attention was the venue that would seem irrelevant to eco-friendly initiatives -- SK Incheon Petrochem, one of the nation’s oldest oil refineries, dating back to 1969.

“Hyundai Motor Group has held a meeting with SK Group on expanding the hydrogen ecosystem here through cross-boundary cooperation,” the auto group said in a release.

The main event that followed the Hyundai-SK meeting was attended by Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, Trade Minister Sung Yun-mo, Environment Minister Han Jeoung-ae, Incheon Mayor Park Nam-chun and other senior officials from both business groups.

Through the top-tier meeting, Chung and Chey vowed to provide an additional 1,500 hydrogen-powered electric cars, to expand the hydrogen charging infrastructure and to establish a hydrogen energy council in the private sector, officials said.

This was not the first time the two business tycoons -- representing the heavy chemical industry and car industry, respectively -- boasted an enhanced business connection. In July last year the two met at SK Innovation’s battery manufacturing plant in South Chungcheong Province’s Seosan to discuss plausible cooperation scenarios in future mobility battery sectors.

“Hydrogen is not only a source of energy but also a storage means for energy, which is why it is expected to serve as an ‘energy currency’ in the age of carbon neutrality,” Chung was quoted as saying.

“Through our cooperation with SK Group, we hope to build a whole hydrogen ecosystem in which the production, distribution and use of hydrogen all take place organically.”

SK chief Chey also reiterated the group’s pledge to make the best use of its petrochemical experience and infrastructure to contribute to the hydrogen economy.

“SK will lay the ground for the hydrogen value chain, while collaborating with Hyundai Motor in supplying hydrogen-powered cars in the market in the meantime,” he said.

The two business groups’ road map is to gradually convert SK Group’s business vehicles to Hyundai Motor’s hydrogen-powered electric vehicles, including the forthcoming hydrogen cargo trucks and tractors. They will also join efforts in building hydrogen charging facilities in key logistics locations such as Incheon and Ulsan and to ultimately install hydrogen chargers at every SK gas station across the nation.

The latest gathering came as part of the auto group’s recognition that hydrogen energy constitutes a key pillar in carbon neutrality -- an initiative that South Korea and major conglomerates strive to achieve by 2050.

“It requires much more than the efforts of individual companies to realize hydrogen society in the true sense. Such a goal may only be achieved through comprehensive partnerships across industries,” Hyundai Motor said.

In such a light, the auto group in February signed a memorandum of understanding with steelmaker Posco Group, focusing on advancing hydrogen reduction steelmaking technologies.

SK Group, which has its roots in the petrochemicals business, has also been devoted in recent years to sustainability and a green-driven business transition.

During the committee meeting, SK Group also unveiled its plan to insert 18.5 trillion won ($16.4 billion) over the next five years into building a hydrogen value chain.

As a preliminary step, the group has recently acquired a 10 percent stake in US hydrogen energy player Plug Power worth $1.5 billion to jointly take the initiative to Asian hydrogen markets.

Hyundai Motor and SK have also formed a consensus on kicking off a “K-hydrogen panel” down the road, along with steelmaker Posco. The forthcoming body is expected to play a role in the private sector in hand with the government-affiliated Hydrogen Economy Committee, officials said.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)
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