CEO & Leaders
[Interview] SK Innovation executives talk about plans in 2022, the first year of Financial Story execution ⑪ Head of SK Innovation Institute of Environmental Science & Technology Lee Seong-jun: “We are strengthening development of technologies that solve carbon issue and preparing for a new R&D center in the U.S.”
2022.03.29 | SKinno News

▲ Lee Seong-jun, Head of SK Innovation Institute of Environmental Science & Technology


Q1. In terms of Financial Story implementation, SK Innovation Institute of Environmental Science & Technology already started making some changes, including altering the organization’s name last year. What is your resolution for 2022 as Head of SK Innovation Institute of Environmental Science & Technology?


We changed the name of our organization from the Institute of Technology Innovation to the Institute of Environmental Science & Technology in 2021 because we want to redefine and restart our R&D direction in a way that emphasizes the environment, which is the gist of our Financial Story.


As SK Innovation evolved into a pure holding company, it offered a vision as a new identity, Green Portfolio Designer & Developer, and in doing so, we bear a significant obligation to lead, help, and check (L/H/C) green transformation and green anchoring.


We will do everything to contribute to maximizing SK Innovation’s corporate value for 2022, which is also the 60th anniversary of our company, as a core axis of the company’s future and the new 60 years to come.


Q2. Established in 1985, SK Innovation’s Institute of Environmental Science & Technology is the first corporate research institute in Korean petrochemical industry. After a few decades, now SK Innovation has declared to take “Carbon to Green” strategy, what kind of changes at the institute that we can expect?


To address the environmental constraints of the petrochemical industry, the late, former chairman Chey Jong-hyun declared the company’s transformation into a total energy corporation exactly 40 years ago in 1982. The institute’s progenitor, Yukong Institute of Technology Support, was formed in 1985 as the first initiative in that line. Aside from the site expenses of 4,959m2, it was a massive investment at the time, with 10 billion KRW committed.


▲ An advertisement for the construction of the ‘Yukong Institute of Technology Support’ appeared in the newspaper on November 11, 1985


The Institute of Environmental Science & Technology has undergone numerous changes and developments, including relocating from Ulsan to Daedok Innopolis in 1995, as well as name changes such as Global Technology, Institute of Technology Innovation, and others. I believe the institute played a major role in laying the groundwork for SK Innovation’s expansion.


While SK Innovation should address carbon issues on its own through ‘Green Transformation’ that innovates business model of its existing carbon business in order to achieve carbon neutrality, it should also lead a global Net Zero initiative through ‘Green Anchoring’ in order to shift its growth axis to green business. The Institute of Environmental Science & Technology intends to serve as a green technology platform for the second foundation of SK Innovation.


Q3. As you said, multiple great results were achieved last year, signifying a fresh new start and complete innovation of the institute. Please provide some examples of your outstanding performance last year.


Despite the formidable obstacles and changes presented by the unprecedented threat of a Covid-pandemic, all members were able to achieve major accomplishments due to their ‘bold and furious efforts’ based on the SUPEX mindset.


In terms of ‘Green Transformation,’ we collaborated with SK Geo Centric on joint research and development, and we were able to make significant progress in plastic waste recycling technology development, as evidenced by the first-ever test application of eco-friendly pyrolysis oil to the actual refinery and petrochemical process of SK Innovation Ulsan Complex in Korea, and the launch of packaging materials that facilitate recycling and reduce environmental effects in collaboration with global packaging partners. Even in the asphalt business, a typical carbon business, we have introduced a product that can reduce carbon emission at the stage of product use by lowering the production and application temperature of asphalt concrete, and it was recognized for its environmentally friendly value.


As a representative example of ‘Green Anchoring,’ I can point to our achievements in BMR (Battery Metal Recycle ). With the rapid increase in electronic vehicles, the importance of properly disposing of used batteries and raw material supplies such as lithium is also emphasized. For years, SK Innovation Institute of Environmental Science & Technology has been developing the BMR technology that revolves around retrieving cathode materials from used batteries as a solution to both the environmental and the battery raw material supply problems. We have built a scale-up pilot plant to complete our own world-class technology, which is currently being tested for commercialization.


Such achievements are totally attributable to our members’ fervor and pursuit of SUPEX in order to ensure the successful implementation of group-wide and individual subsidiary-wide strategies. I’d like to express my appreciation to them once more.


Q4. As you mentioned earlier, it appears that pyrolysis oil is crucial not only for SK, but for the entire globe, in that it provides a solution to plastic waste, which is one of the biggest global concerns recently. Could you please elaborate on it?


To create a circular economy for plastics, it is critical to advance physical recycling technology for relatively less contaminated mono-material plastics, as well as chemical recycling technology for highly polluted or composite-material plastics that are difficult to recycle.


Regarding pyrolysis oil technology, one of the chemical recycling technologies, SK Geo Centric adopted domestic pyrolysis SMEs-made pyrolysis oil for mutual prosperity and cooperation, and applied it to the actual refinery and petrochemical process for the first time in Korea in September last year, without any issue in the manufacturing process and product.


▲ (Left) Chinese state-owned broadcaster CCTV visited SK Innovation’s of Environmental Science & Technology in November 2021 to cover the plastic waste recycling technology developed by the company / (Right) Captured footage from CCTV’s actual broadcast on November 17, 2021 (Source: CCTV


Furthermore, the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology is working on post-processing technologies to eliminate numerous impurities that are imperative when using a big amount of pyrolysis oil as a feedstock. Based on decades of accumulated expertise and know-how on catalyst and process, we preemptively predict various issues such as catalyst, reactor design, material selection, wastewater and waste gas treatment, and more and tackle them with experts from diverse fields.


Our independently developed post-process scale-up pilot plant is about to construct in the first half of the year and we also plan to run a large-scale pyrolysis plant that combines the global technology partnering undertaken by SK Geo Centric with SK Innovation’s own impurity removal process.


The goal of the Institute of Environmental Science & Technology is to recover oil and raw materials for chemical products from plastic wastes through recycling, which can be recapitulated as an urban oil field, in the most successful and stable way to solve the global plastic waste issue and contribute to Net Zero, which I believe is also the job of the Green Tech. Platform.


▲ Lee Seong-jun, Head of SK Innovation Institute of Environmental Science & Technology


Q5. What you have explained are all very crucial for SK Innovation affiliates’ Financial Story implementation. So what is your focus this year?


As previously said, we will drive a large-scale innovation to kick off the new 60 years for SK Innovation affiliates. First, we will further develop the technologies to elevate the existing businesses’ sustainability while addressing carbon challenges with fresh perspectives and approaches and developing a new green portfolio.


BMR and plastic waste recycling technology, which have lately been brought into the limelight, are revolutionary technologies that we have acquired by merging SK Innovation’s 60-year accumulated capabilities with new fields. In some sense, we are entitled to be the finest carbon solution supplier because we have long amassed top-level technologies in the petrochemical business.


▲ SK Innovation is participating in a CCS business at the East Sea Gas Field of the Korea National Oil Corporation


The Institute of Environmental Science and Technology intends to take part in a national project for carbon capture and storage (CCS) using the East-sea Gas Reservoir, which has a capacity of 40,000 tons of CO2 per year, and to develop a technology to effectively capture CO2 released into the atmosphere during the process, which will later evolve into a carbon capture & utilization (CCU) technology that not only stores CO2 but also re-uses it as future eco-friendly energy such as e-Fuel.


From the standpoint of constructing a circular economy, we are developing a new technology to recycle waste lubricating oils, as well as plans to generate biofuel, bio naphtha, and bioplastics, among other things, as we expand our plastic waste recycling technology.


Also, we will strive to preempt the market by securing the next-generation technologies to accelerate our ‘Carbon to Green’ initiative. Once-distant technologies, such as all-solid-state batteries, are now attracting intense commercial interest, and such a dramatic shift in the management environment necessitates quick scientific progress. To translate such demands into a new growth axis, the Institute of Environmental Science & Technology intends to fully engage in exploring technology-based new green portfolios, and study new energy fields such as hydrogen energy from a mid-to-long term perspective.


In addition to the carbon to green strategies to complete the puzzle for the Financial Story Season 1, we have already begun preparing a blueprint for SK Innovation’s Financial Story Season 2. To accomplish this, we completed a company-wide organizational reshuffle, such as the organizational exchange with the portfolio division (previous strategy head office), the strategy component of the company-wide expansion at the end of last year. Under the resolution that we are creating the corporate value of future SK Innovation, we shall try our best.


Q6. In January of this year, SK Innovation stated that it will create a ‘SK Green Techno Campus (tentative name)’ with SK Group members in Bucheon, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea. Having a research institute in the Seoul Metropolitan Area signals a significant transition in SK Innovation’s R&D history. Could you explain it in more detail?


Chairman of SK Group Chey Tae-won earlier accentuated that member businesses that have adopted green business strategies shall gather in the 2020 CEO seminar to seek ways to implement those strategies. As a result, we decided to form an environment business committee in the SUPEX Pursuit Council as a group-wide initiative, and after deliberating on how to establish an R&D hub to secure a group-wide sustainable environmentally friendly growth engine, we decided to establish a ‘SK Green Techno Campus (tentative name) in Bucheon city.


As previously stated, it is inevitable to reinforce the role of the Institute of Environmental Science & Technology as the green tech. platform and expand R&D infra to complete SK Innovation’s new identity as a ‘Green Portfolio Designer & Developer’. When the ‘SK Green Techno Campus’ (tentative name) is built as a platform to collect the group’s environmentally friendly R&D competencies, it is expected to significantly boost our technological competitiveness to realize our Net Zero target and the great transformation of our environmental business.


Furthermore, we are seeking to establish a global R&D center alongside the ‘SK Green Techno Campus (tentative name)’ to bolster SK Innovation’s R&D capabilities. We intend to establish a global R&D hub in the United States, centered on San Francisco and Silicon Valley. We have already visited the locations after CES 2022, and the plan is proceeding well. We plan to begin full-fledged operations in the first half of this year.


▲ Bucheon Mayor Jang Deok-cheon (left) and Head of SK Innovation’s Institute of Environmental Science & Technology Lee Seong-jun participated in a MOU signing ceremony between Bucheon City and SK Group for the establishment of ‘(tentative name) SK Green Techno Campus (tentative name)’, held at Bucheon City Hall, South Korea, on January 25, 2022.


Q7. Lastly, please leave a message to our stakeholders, SKinno News readers, and SK Innovation members.


In 2022, SK Innovation should embark on a new initiative based on the solid foundation it has developed over the last 60 years. This year is a critical time for the Institute of Environmental Science & Technology as it should attain successful green transformation and green anchoring while preparing for the Financial Story Season 2, and the expectation on R&D, which is at the heart of the company’s new strategies, are exceptionally high compared to previous years. Although it will be a difficult undertaking, I am convinced that if all members pool their strength and wisdom and pour their hearts into the challenge in a daring and ferocious manner, we will be able to complete it. It’s because I have faith in our members’ exceptional abilities and steadfast determination.


I am convinced that if we work hard to live up to the institute’s motto of “an R&D culture that takes challenges boldly and fiercely,” we will achieve great results in 2022 as well. As the Head of SK Innovation’s Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, I will take the initiative in embarking on a new venture based on the trust and support of all members and stakeholders, ushering in a brilliant route to another 60 years for SK Innovation.


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