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[Auto parts / USA] Albemarle Korea Corp.
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A Chemical Connection With Korea

Albemarle Korea Corp. supplies chemical products domestically and is preparing to expand

Albemarle may not be a name you see on everyday products, but it’s got everything to do with them.

Take the plastic bags you use when grocery shopping; Albemarle makes the catalysts that make the polymers that make those bags. Your television or computer; Albemarle makes the flame retardants that prevent these electronics from getting overheated and bursting into flame. They make the refinery catalysts in the fuel you put in your car. They provide the active ingredients in ibuprofen, the generic name for drugs like Advil.

The U.S.-based Albemarle, a specialty chemical supplier in about 100 countries, started doing business with Korea in the early 1990s through its domestic agent and distributor, Taerim International. It bought Taerim and established Albemarle Korea Corp. in 2003.

“We’re very excited to be here,” said Shay Tan, managing director of Albemarle Korea, citing the opportunities in Korea’s leading sectors. “That’s definitely an exciting perspective for us because we can participate with that.”

A key theme in Albemarle Korea’s journey has been growth. Thus far a sales organization for Albemarle products, the company plans to expand into manufacturing and export through a factory being built in Yeosu with a $70 million investment and scheduled for completion early next year.

“We are looking at Korea because it’s a growth region and we are seeing more than just a place where you do sales and trading,” Tan said.

Global Albemarle’s $2.5 billion business is divided into three segments - fine chemistry, polymer solutions and catalysts. The company provides polymer solutions and catalysts used for everything from food safety to petroleum refining, and in such industries as pharmaceutical and chemical and other specialty sectors. Polymer solutions include flame retardants, antioxidants, curatives and stabilisers. Catalysts comprise fluid cracking catalysts (FCC), hydroprocessing catalysts (HCC), polyolefin & chemical catalysts and alternative fuel technology.

Albemarle Korea, located in Samseong-dong and which recorded sales of $160 million last year, has about 100 customers across a gamut of industries. Oil refinery companies include SK Energy, Hyundai Oilbank and S-Oil while major petrochemical companies include LG Chem Ltd., Daelim, Cheil Industries and Samsung Total Petrochemicals Co. Ltd. Tan says the strength of these and other key Korean companies offers opportunities.

The chemical market depends significantly on the global economy. Korea being an export-driven economy, it is important that Albemarle Korea partner with companies in the country’s leading export sectors, namely semiconductors, consumer electronics, automobiles, shipbuilding and petrochemicals, Tan said.

The managing director added that a couple areas poised for fast growth in Korea, areas for which Albemarle Korea could supply products, are LED lighting and electric cars.

“Those are offering exciting opportunities,” he said. “We will continue to look at what other products we can bring in from other parts of our organization... to take advantage of the leading technologies.”

Another element of Albemarle Korea’s anticipated growth involves research and development, as the Yeosu factory will also serve as an R&D facility. The company’s current staff of about 40 would more than double once the factory is completed.

For Tan, who joined Albemarle Korea in 2008, the need to grow and sustain growth leads to one ultimate goal.

“Our philosophy, in all the businesses we are in, [is that] we need to be the leaders,” he said.

By Chang Young (
Did you know?
  • Albemarle is the world’s largest producer of ibuprofen.
  • It is also the world’s largest producer of flame retardants.
  • Albemarle Korea has 7 foreign employees, including Tan, but hopes to have Koreans take over these positions in the next few years.
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