Hydrogen industry shifting to clean tech, says new EPO/IEA report

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Hydrogen technology innovation now driven by low-emission solutions according to a joint study of patents by the European Patent Office and the International Energy Agency.

A new report using global patent data to provide comprehensive up-to-date analysis of innovation in all hydrogen technologies, has revealed a dramatic shift in focus across the global industry as it pushes towards clean hydrogen technology.

International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol said: “Hydrogen from low-emissions sources can play an important role in clean energy transitions with potential to replace fossil fuels in industries where few clean alternatives exist, like long-haul transport and fertiliser production. This study shows that innovators are responding to the need for competitive hydrogen supply chains, but also identifies areas – particularly among end-users – where more effort is required. We will continue to help governments spur innovation for secure, resilient and sustainable clean energy technologies.”

The study presents the major trends in hydrogen technologies from 2011 to 2020. The report finds that global patenting in hydrogen is led by the European Union and Japan, which account for 28% and 24% respectively of patents filed in this period. The leading countries in Europe are Germany (11% of the global total), France (6%), and the Netherlands (3%).

The United States, with 20% of all hydrogen-related patents, is the only major innovation centre to see international hydrogen patent applications decline in the past decade. International patenting activity in hydrogen technologies remained modest in South Korea and China but is on the rise.

European Patent Office president António Campinos said: “Harnessing the potential of hydrogen is a key part of Europe’s strategy to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, but if hydrogen is to play a major role in reducing CO2 emissions, innovation is urgently needed across a range of technologies. This report reveals some encouraging transition patterns across countries and industry sectors, including Europe’s major contribution to the emergence of new hydrogen technologies. It also highlights the contribution of start-ups to hydrogen innovation, and their reliance on patents to bring their inventions to market.” 

Hydrogen production technologies accounted for the largest number of hydrogen patents over the 2011-2020 period. While global hydrogen production is currently almost entirely fossil-fuel-based, the patenting data shows that low-emissions innovations generated more than twice the number of international patents across all segments of the hydrogen value chain than established technologies.

Technologies motivated by climate concerns accounted for nearly 80% of all patents related to hydrogen production in 2020, with growth driven chiefly by a sharp increase of innovation in electrolysis. The most innovative regions are now competing to host the first industrial roll-out phase, with the data suggesting that Europe is gaining an edge as a location for investment in new electrolyser manufacturing capacity.

Click here to read the key findings of the report, Hydrogen patents for a clean energy future.