11 Dec 2020
Sun Metals Corporation has called Townsville in north Queensland home for almost 30 years. The Australian subsidiary of Korea Zinc, the world’s largest zinc producer, Sun Metals operates a zinc refinery that produces 230,000MT of zinc annually and contributes 11% of its parent company’s total revenue each year. The company is now taking advantage of Australia’s abundant sunshine and building a renewable hydrogen facility to drive the next chapter of its growth.
‘Australia has it all: plenty of natural resources, a skilled workforce, a supportive government and proximity to major export markets in Asia,’ says Kiwon Park, CEO, Sun Metals Corporation.
‘In particular, Australia’s tremendous amounts of solar and wind resources offer great opportunities for renewable energy projects as the world looks to a clean, green future. Australia has great potential to become a world-leading provider of renewables.
‘Korea Zinc, through Sun Metals, has invested more than A$1.5 billion in Australia since 1996,’ says Park. ‘As we expand into green hydrogen, our investment in Australia and its people will only continue to grow.’
A zinc powerhouse
Established in 1974, Korea Zinc is a non-ferrous metal smelting company. Korea Zinc is the world’s leading producer of zinc, lead, silver and electronic-grade sulphuric acid, with global revenues of approximately US$5.7 billion in 2019.
Australia’s wealth of natural resources made the country an attractive investment location. ‘Townsville also has a major shipping port that made it easy to receive zinc concentrates from around the country and overseas, as well as export the refined zinc to customers in the Asian region and beyond,’ says Park.
Korea Zinc established Sun Metals Corporation in 1996 and began constructing the zinc refinery soon after. The refinery comprises roasting, leaching, purification, electrolysis and casting facilities, as well as a laboratory for analysis work. It started operating in 1999.
The refinery produces 230,000MT of zinc annually, of which 170,000MT is exported to China, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa and North America. Sun Metals’ annual revenue of US$648 million accounts for 11% of Korea Zinc’s total consolidated revenue of US$5.7 billion.
In 2020, Sun Metals began a A$455 million expansion of the zinc refinery. The expansion includes process automation and digital transformation projects that are expected to accelerate business improvement. The company expects annual production to increase to 300,000MT per annum when the expansion is complete in 2021.
While the COVID-19 pandemic did not have a major impact on Sun Metals’ operations, mine closures around the world made it difficult to source zinc concentrates. Sun Metals worked with its parent company to manage stock levels, and found more local sources to reduce its dependence on imports. To protect staff, Sun Metals developed systems and protocols to isolate key operation and administration teams to minimise the impact of any COVID-19 cases on its operation.
In addition to the zinc refinery, Sun Metals has established a transport and logistics company, Townsville Logistics, and a stevedoring company, Townsville Marine Logistics.
‘The Australian and Queensland Governments have always been supportive of Sun Metals,’ says Park. ‘They have assisted us with regulations and licensing related to our various businesses.’
Clean and green energy
Sun Metals embarked on its next big investment in 2018, building a A$201 million 124MW solar farm next to the zinc refinery. It was the largest industrial-scale solar project in Australia at the time. The solar farm currently supplies 22% of the refinery’s power.
In 2020, Sun Metals became the first major refinery in the world to join the RE100 initiative, under which major businesses commit to using only renewable energy. The company is aiming to source 100% of the energy-intensive zinc refinery’s electricity from renewable sources by 2040 using a combination of solar and wind power, as well as technologies such as batteries, biogas and hydrogen.
Sun Metals’ commitment to green energy has extended to its latest investment: in 2020, the company announced it was building a renewable hydrogen facility alongside its zinc refinery.
‘Australia is our first choice for any potential renewable energy projects, thanks to its abundant solar and wind resources,’ says Park.
‘Our goal is to build a substantial and sustainable hydrogen manufacturing and exporting hub in Townsville that we hope will lead to export to Korea and other Asian countries. The renewable hydrogen facility will drive our business growth over the next 10 to 20 years.’
A pillar of the community
Sun Metals is a vital member of the Townsville community. The company has provided employment for over 1,000 people in construction and ongoing jobs since 1996. It currently employs 329 people in operations, maintenance and business support areas. An additional 160 contractors provide operations and maintenance support.
‘We are committed to ensuring our people have the right education and skills to perform their roles safely and effectively,’ says Park. ‘We offer ongoing professional development and specific leadership training for our current and upcoming leaders.’
Sun Metals also contributes to the local community. The company donates A$10,000 annually to community events and organisations such as the Special Children’s Christmas party, Lion’s Club and Queensland Police Legacy. It also matches employees’ donations and gives approximately
A$30,000 per annum to charities including The Salvation Army, Australian Childhood Foundation, Cancer Council Queensland, Leukaemia Foundation and Wildcare Australia.
From March to September 2020, when COVID-19 was threatening Townsville’s economy, Sun Metals gave coupons to employees to spend at local businesses. The company also supplied hand sanitiser to vulnerable communities in the region, and expedited payment to small and medium-sized suppliers to help alleviate their cash flow issues.
‘Australia’s many zinc mines and substantial amount of renewable energy will sustain our business for many more years,’ says Park. ‘We will continue to invest in our Australian people, plant and technology to ensure we are the world’s most advanced, globally competitive zinc refinery.’
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