ExxonMobil Boosts Battery Biz With $325M South Korean Plant

ExxonMobil is reportedly set to invest some of its record-breaking oil profits into cleantech technologies with plans for $325 million plant in South Korea that will make parts for lithium-ion batteries for cars. TonenGeneral Sekiyu K.K., ExxonMobil’s Japanese battery subsidiary, broke ground yesterday for a new the plant southeast of Seoul; it will manufacture the battery separator films that are critical to lithium battery development. Production, which is due to start next year, is expected to yield about 30 million square meters of film annually.

As demand for lithium-ion vehicular batteries has exploded, battery makers have been struggling to keep up. Currently many of the battery manufacturers in South Korea import their precious separator films from Japan. The country reportedly exported about 100 billion won (about $76 million) in 2006 to purchase those films. This new plant will provide much needed domestically produced film to South Korean battery makers like LG Chem, which has a contract with South Korea’s largest automaker, Hyundai, to provide next-gen lithium-ion batteries for Hyundai’s first hybrid, a Sonata sedan, expected in 2010.

ExxonMobil started showing off its new separator film at last year’s Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exposition and then debuted the latest iteration of the films specifically for vehicle batteries in May at the Advanced Automotive Battery Conference. The company says the film is made of high heat-resistant polymers allowing for safer, more efficient batteries.