Germany – An analysis of patents conducted jointly by the European Patent Office (EPO) and the International Energy Agency indicates that the development of hydrogen technology is moving toward low-emissions options like electrolysis.
The report, which is the first of its type, analyzes data from worldwide patent applications to present a thorough, current review of innovation across all hydrogen technologies. It includes the complete spectrum of technology, including end-use applications and hydrogen supply, storage, distribution, and transformation.
In terms of international patent families (IPFs), which each reflect a high-value invention for which patent applications have been filed at two or more patent offices globally, the report presents the key trends in hydrogen technologies from 2011 to 2020. According to the research, the European Union and Japan are the top two regions for hydrogen patenting globally, accounting for 28% and 24%, respectively, of all IPFs filed over this time period, with considerable growth over the previous 10 years. Germany (11% of the global total), France (6%), and the Netherlands (3%), are the top three nations in Europe.
The only significant innovation hub where international hydrogen patent applications have decreased over the past ten years is the United States, which accounts for 20% of all hydrogen-related patents. In South Korea and China, international patent activity in hydrogen technologies was very low but is now increasing. The United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Canada are three other nations that produce a sizable number of hydrogen patents in addition to these five key innovation hubs.
The most hydrogen patents were related to hydrogen generating methods between 2011 and 2020. Despite the fact that practically all of the world’s hydrogen generation now relies on fossil fuels, the patenting data reveals that across the whole hydrogen value chain, low-emission innovations were responsible for more than twice as many international patents as established technology.
Nearly 80% of all hydrogen production-related patents in 2020 were driven by technologies motivated by environmental concerns, with electrolysis seeing a dramatic rise in innovation. According to the data, Europe is gaining an advantage as a location for investment in new electrolyser production capacity. The most inventive locations are currently fighting to host the first industrial roll-out phase.
Hydrogen’s decarbonization potential
The automobile industry has long been the center of invention for hydrogen’s various potential end-use applications, and patenting in this field is still expanding, with Japan leading the way. Despite persistent policy and media attention on hydrogen’s potential to decarbonize long-distance transportation, aircraft, power production, and heating in recent years, a similar impetus is not yet apparent in other end-use sectors. Without addressing the persistent use of fossil fuels in these areas, national net zero emissions goals cannot be met. The use of hydrogen to decarbonize steel manufacturing has recently seen an increase in patent applications, perhaps in reaction to the post-Paris Agreement consensus that the industry requires radical ideas to reduce emissions soon.
The European chemical industry, which excels in this field and has a head start in climate-driven technologies like electrolysis and fuel cells, leads innovation in existing hydrogen technologies. The automotive industry is active in other areas besides merely car technology. With an emphasis on low-emissions hydrogen production techniques like electrolysis, universities and public research institutions produced 13.5% of all international patents relating to hydrogen between 2011 and 2020, with French and Korean institutions leading the way.
Despite making up less than a third of the start-ups in the report’s data set, the analysis reveals that more than half of the USD 10 billion in venture capital investment into hydrogen enterprises between 2011 and 2020 went to startups with patents. More than 80% of late-stage investments in hydrogen start-ups between 2011 and 2020 went to businesses that had already submitted a patent application in fields like electrolysis, fuel cells, or low-emission techniques for producing hydrogen from gas. Having a patent is a good indicator of whether a start-up will continue to attract funding.