Now it’s time to take a close look at a small but competitive business making a difference for the Korean economy. // Phenomena which cannot take place at room temperature, such as an elastic rubber ball shattering into pieces, occur at cryogenic temperatures, which range from -150 degrees to -273 degrees. Cryogenic temperatures can create electrical energy without power loss. It also causes gas to instantaneously turn into liquid and the characteristic is applied to various technologies, such as Maglev trains, MRIs, and rocket launches. That is why cryogenic temperature is hailed as the greatest discovery of the 20th century. There is a Korean corporation that has a core technology for this sector. It’s called OPERON, which has developed the internationally patented -156 degree cryogenic cooling system. Let’s hear from Kim Jin-pyo of the company’s international technology marketing division.

Our company was established in 1991 and specializes in cryogenic cooling systems and vacuums. We have the world’s first international patent for a -156 degree cryogenic cooling system. Temperatures are divided into low temperatures and cryogenic temperatures. We normally call the range between -150 and -273 degrees as the cryogenic temperature. Below -135 degrees is what we call the “amorphous state” when ice crystals do not form. We preserve cells like stem cells in this state because it does not damage anything in the freezing or thawing process. The core technology was developed in 2000 and the international patent is for our -156 degree cryogenic cooling system, which applies to the US, Germany, China, and Korea. Based on this core technology, we are expanding and developing other cooling technologies.

The Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, who studied liquefying gas through cooling, was able to succeed in bringing the temperature down to -269 degrees in 1911. Afterwards, the technology to create a cryogenic world began, but it’s hard to create such conditions and even harder to maintain them. However, since its establishment in 1991, OPERON started off by self-developing a -40 degree freezer which led to the development of a freezer which could reach -86 degrees, and then -120 degrees. As the company continued striving to bring the temperature down, they succeeded in developing the world’s first cryogenic cooling system.

Generally, the way to lower temperature is through the use of nitrogen or helium. The most effective method uses liquid helium. However, liquid helium has a major flaw. First of all, it can lead to suffocation. Also, it is very dangerous because a very cold liquid is sprayed and it can lead to accidents. That is why we use a compressor and a cooling system. What a cooling system does is it combines gas and compresses it at a high pressure to lower the temperature. It isn’t easy to lower the temperature. When our CEO first worked as a cooling engineer, it was around the time when -80 degree freezers first started coming out in the US, Japan, and Europe. He started studying the technology and became interested in it. That’s how he was able to develop the technology even further when other countries witnessed a standstill. With these developments, OPERON was able to register the first international patent for a -156 degree cryogenic cooling system.

OPERON CEO Park Hee-jun started out as an engineer. While developing various experimental equipment, he became interested in cryogenic temperatures. He wanted to become the pioneer of cryogenics which is why he named his company OPERON, which means the “start of gene expression”. Through continuous research and development, he was able to secure cooling-related technology. He continued on this path for around 10 years and in 2000, OPERON succeeded in developing the world’s first -156 degree cryogenic cooling system. In the past, cryogenic cooling systems used liquid nitrogen or helium as the medium, but OPERON used a combination of seven different cooling agents, condensing and expanding them in stages to overcome the high cost and danger associated with liquid nitrogen. The safe and long-lasting freezer that received patents in the US, Germany, China, and Korea is being used for a variety of different products.

Our unique technology allowed us to develop the -120 degree Organic Solvent-only Chemical-free Freeze Dryer and Industrial Cold Trap. Industrial Cold Traps are designed to capture harmful substances from production processes, such as sulfuric acid or hydrochloric acid, by freezing them. We also have a chamber to test shipbuilding and marine components. When transporting LNG vessels, their tanks are exposed to temperatures below -165 degrees for extended periods of time. That is why their parts must be tested for tensile sensitivity. We are the only company in the world that produces such products. A variety of different fields from aerospace engineering, defense, petrochemicals, shipbuilding, and the marine industry have been making custom orders for our products.

The temperature for a regular freezer used at home goes down to -20 degrees. The temperature for dry ice is -80 degrees. A LNG vessel that transports natural gas in liquid form must maintain a temperature of -162 degrees. Methane, which takes up 90% of natural gas, has a boiling point of -162 degrees, so if the temperature goes above that point, it turns into gas. In order to prevent such a loss, a cryogenic cooling system that can test whether precise control from ultra-low to high temperatures is possible in the long-term must be put in place. Based on its core technology, OPERON is creating a variety of products and exporting them to corporations, research centers, colleges, hospitals, and other organizations in 24 countries around the world. These days, the company is developing consumer products.

We developed a freeze-drier for food that uses only half the energy that other freeze-driers use. The technology comes from recycling the energy that comes from compression. Basically, even if you use our freeze-drier every day for a month, it would only cost around 250,000 won. Standard products would leave you with an energy bill of around 600,000 won.

OPERON took part in the Seoul Food 2017 trade show, showcasing its freeze-drier that used half the energy of conventional freeze-driers. Conventional freeze-driers were expensive and used a lot of energy. However, OPERON was able to solve that problem by recycling the energy that came from the cooling agent’s compressor. OPERON is a true pioneer of the cryogenic field, popularizing the technology which has formerly been used for cutting-edge industries.