IEA (2023), Hydrogen Patents for a Clean Energy Future, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/reports/hydrogen-patents-for-a-clean-energy-future, License: CC BY 4.0
A successful transition to a clean energy future will be supported by rapid changes in the global economy and in people’s patterns of energy consumption, all of which have the potential to sustain healthier societies, more equitable outcomes and a more resilient planet. Technology will be at the heart of many of these changes, and nowhere more so than in the scale-up of hydrogen as a clean energy carrier.
While strong policy will be needed to make low-emission hydrogen cost-competitive, it will not be possible without technology improvements across a value chain that touches nearly every part of the energy system. Innovators around the world are ramping up their efforts in areas as diverse as fossil fuel conversion, electrochemical splitting of water, graphene tanks, cryogenic storage, fuel cell motors for aircraft and the reduction of iron ore. If hydrogen is to play a major role in reducing fossil fuel emissions, its future depends on uniting a wide range of advances in different types of hardware and creating new markets for them. Compared with digital technologies such as software, hardware generally takes more time to develop and involves greater investment risk during the prototyping and market entry phases. Through patenting, inventors seek to ensure that they can recoup these investments in innovation.
Coordinating the deployment of the full hydrogen energy value chain is perhaps the most complex of all the technical challenges facing energy engineers and it is sometimes hard to discern the status of all the underpinning technology areas. Patents are strong indicators of innovation activity which can give very detailed insights into the state and direction of the science.
This study, which combines the expertise of the International Energy Agency and the European Patent Office, is the most comprehensive, global and up-to-date investigation of hydrogen-related patenting so far. Uniquely, it covers technologies for the full range of hydrogen supply, storage, distribution, transformation and end-user applications, as well as introducing new search strategies to compare incremental innovation related to established fossil fuel processes with emerging technologies motivated by the climate challenge.