The European Patent Office and the International Energy Agency have released a joint report: “Hydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains.” The report analyzes patent trends in hydrogen technology, including production, storage, distribution, transformation, and end-use. Top innovators in automotive hydrogen applications include Toyota, Hyundai, Honda, and Kia, with patent filings focusing on fuel cells for propulsion and polymer separator membrane materials. The automotive industry is also a major driver of innovation in hydrogen storage and distribution, led by Toyota and Honda.
Key findings in the report include:
Europe and Japan showed sustained growth in patent filings on hydrogen technology from 2011 to 2020 while patenting in the U.S. decreased after 2015. Korea and China hold a relatively low share of patent filings but have high annual growth rates.
European chemical companies led innovation in the well-established chemicals and refining sectors, while Japanese and Korean companies, primarily in the automotive industry, led innovation in emerging technologies motivated by climate change, such as production by electrolysis and fuel cell applications.
Patenting has shifted to focus on alternatives to fossil fuel-based hydrogen production, especially electrolyzers.
Innovation in hydrogen-based fuels decreased from 2011-2020.
Patenting on hydrogen use in the automotive sector increased at much higher rates than for other end-use applications.
Data shows patenting is critical to hydrogen startups, with 80% of later-stage investment in hydrogen start-ups being received by companies with pending or issued patents.
“The uneven trends in hydrogen-related patenting across technologies and regions indicate opportunities for policy action to help release a net zero emissions future. . . . The emphasis of innovators on hydrogen production is very welcome, and will lead to cost reductions over time, but cost and performance improvements are also needed in areas such as hydrogen-based fuels synthesis and end-use applications.”
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