SK, Hyundai Motor, POSCO, Hanwha and Hyosung are planning to spend KRW43.4 trillion (US$38.6bn) by the end of 2030 in all areas of the South Korean hydrogen economy, ranging from production and distribution to storage and use, a local media report said.

Hani.co.kr said the companies plan to steer South Korea past the US, Japan and Germany at the early market stage to achieve the world's top hydrogen industry as leading domestic companies seek to become leading hydrogen businesses with intensive government support.

During the first half of the year, CEOs of leading hydrogen companies such as Hyundai Motor and SK plan to form a 'Korean hydrogen committee', essentially a private sector economic group for hydrogen related businesses, the report added.

The report said the South Korean government held a third meeting of its hydrogen economy council at an SK Incheon petrochem factory this week, with prime minister Chung Sye-kyun, Hyundai Motor chairman Chung Eui-sun and SK chairman Chey Tae-won present. During the meeting, council members voted to approve plans for private investment in the hydrogen economy along with government support.

Hani.co.kr said the plans submitted to the government by major companies would includes investments of KRW18.5 trillion ($16.4bn) by SK in fuel cell power plants and other areas; KRW 11.1 trillion ($9.8bn) by Hyundai Motor in hydrogen vehicles and other areas; KRW10 trillion ($8.9bn) by POSCO in areas including hydrogen reduction steelmaking; KRW1.3 trillion ($1.1bn) by Hanwha in areas such as green hydrogen production; and KRW1.2 trillion ($1bn) by Hyosung in hydrogen liquefaction plants and other areas.

Middle-market companies and SMEs also reported plans to the government for over KRW1 trillion ($891m) in investment in parts and specialised areas, the report added.

Prime minister Chung Sye-kyun told the gathering: "The fact that companies representing the South Korean economy in areas such as energy, steel, chemicals and automobiles have made plans for KRW43 trillion in hydrogen economy investments signifies that hydrogen - something previously confined to the laboratory - has reached an inflection point toward becoming the market economy's mainstream."

Hani.co.kr  said the number of South Korean made hydrogen vehicles last year totalled 10,945 for South Korea, 8,801 for the US, 3,982 for Japan and 374 for Germany.

The country also shipped power plant fuel cell systems for South Korea, the US and Japan.

The report said SK had shared a blueprint for becoming the world's top-ranking eco-friendly hydrogen business. Focusing mainly on SK E&S, the plan includes building a liquefied hydrogen production base - a 43,000 square metre (10 acres) site within the SK Incheon Petrochem complex, with an investment of KRW500bn ($445m) - to achieve the claimed world's largest scale of production at 30,000 tonnes per year to the end of 2023, mainly through byproduct hydrogen.

That also included the production of an additional 250,000 tonnes of clean hydrogen each year by 2025 through the removal of carbon dioxide from liquefied natural gas (LNG). The company is investing KRW5.3 trillion ($4.7bn) in the project in the region near South Korea's Boryeong LNG Terminal.

Hani.co.kr  said Hyosung plans to build a large scale hydrogen liquefaction plant with an annual production of 10,000 tons by June 2023 at its Ulsan factory.

The so called 'Korean hydrogen committee' would be a hydrogen economy association bringing together CEOs from the leading hydrogen economy businesses.

The government reportedly said this would be a "consultative group for cooperation of hydrogen projects, making proposals concerning improvements to hydrogen industry-related regulations and systems as well as taxation and safety standards while also working to identify possible joint projects."

Hyundai Motor and SK management plan to establish the committee in this first half of 2021.

The Hani.co.kr  report added Korean companies also plan to launch a diverse range of hydrogen mobility beyond hydrogen cars between 2022 and 2025, including metropolitan buses, trucks, forklifts, excavators and small ships. The government is providing a budget of KRW824.4bn ($735m) for hydrogen mobility and related areas this year.

It also plans to apply for a pre-feasibility study toward the establishment of specialised hydrogen integration complexes in different regions, including Incheon (biohydrogen and byproduct hydrogen production), North Jeolla Province (green hydrogen production at Saemangeum), Ulsan (hydrogen mobility), North Gyeongsang Province (hydrogen fuel cells) and Gangwon Province (liquefied hydrogen storage and transportation).

"Our technological capabilities in finished product sectors such as hydrogen vehicles and fuel cells are on par with the advanced economies, but we're weak when it comes to the upstream hydrogen industry," Huh Sun-kyung, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade (KIET), told Hani.co.kr.

"Support at the government level should be focused not on nurturing specific businesses, but on strengthening the industry ecosystem's innovation capabilities," she added.