Japan was the region in which the number of new hydrogen patents rose at the fastest pace throughout the 2011-20 period, with compound average growth rates of 6.2%. The United States is the only part of the world in which the number of patents decreased over the same period.
South Korea and China accounted for around 6% and 4% of total patents, but they showed solid growth, with average annual growth rates of 12.2% and 15.2%, respectively. South Korea, in particular, is focusing on emerging end-use applications for hydrogen.
The European chemical industry, mainly in Germany and France, dominated innovation in established hydrogen technologies. However, the new hydrogen patent heavyweights are primarily Japanese and Korean companies in the automotive and chemical sectors. Such companies tend to focus on electrolysis and fuel cell technologies.
“About half of international patent families (IPF) in hydrogen technologies in the period 2011-20 were related to hydrogen production,” said the IEA and the EPO. “The other IPF were split between end-use applications of hydrogen and technologies for the storage, distribution and transformation of hydrogen.”
Patenting has shifted away from fossil fuel-based tech to low-emission methods. The report notes the increase in electrolysis technology innovation. Japan led patents in alkaline and PEM technologies between 2011 and 2020.
“The EU 27 and other European countries are active in both patenting and manufacturing – notably in SOEC technologies – while also making significant contributions in terms of PEM and alkaline technologies,” said the IEA and the EPO.
The two institutions have called for strong policies to make low-emission hydrogen more cost-competitive. They have noted that technology improvements across the value chain will be needed for hydrogen to play a “major role” in the energy transition.
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