AOn the way to climate neutrality, hydrogen counts as a beacon of hope. It can be used to store green energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is still a rare occurrence. More and more corporations and young companies are working on ways to use hydrogen. This is reflected in the growing number of hydrogen patents: and Germany and Europe are ahead in the world with this.
The EU leads with a 28 percent share of hydrogen-related patents from the years 2011 to 2020 ahead of Japan with 24 percent, as the European Patent Office (EPO) together with the International Energy Agency (IEA) found out. The new study “Hydrogen Patents for a Future with Clean Energy” will be published on Tuesday and was previously available to the FAZ.
Patent Office President António Campinos sees this as an encouraging pattern of behavior for the change in the economy: The potential of hydrogen is essential for the European strategy for climate neutrality by 2050. “However, innovations in a large number of technologies are still urgently needed if hydrogen plays an important role in reducing the CO2emissions and tackling climate change,” he said.
Half of the international patent families in the years 2011 to 2020 refer to technologies to produce hydrogen: According to the patent office, this is increasingly happening with low-emission methods such as electrolysis, which can convert solar energy into hydrogen, for example. The inventions cover the entire value-added chain right through to end-use applications for automobiles, aviation, heating and steel production.
More than every tenth hydrogen invention comes from Germany. With a share of 11 percent, the country is ahead and achieves technological advantages in the areas of storage, distribution and conversion as well as for end applications. The USA, on the other hand, has fallen behind as the only country among the frontrunners with international hydrogen patent applications. The country’s contribution to innovation has roughly halved since 2014.
This decline surprised Ilja Rudyk, an economist at the European Patent Office in Munich and one of the authors of the study, since America is normally represented in all areas. “Germany has a leading role along the entire value chain,” he said in an interview. Rudyk sees two major innovation clusters in this country: in the Munich region with the Linde , BMW and Airbus groups – and in the Ruhr area primarily with Thyssenkrupp and BASF .
However, according to the survey, the German automotive industry lags far behind Japan and Korea, which in some cases register ten times as many patents. In Germany, 17 start-ups with patent activities in the hydrogen sector received around 278 million euros in venture capital from 2011 to 2020.
So far, the production of hydrogen has often depended on the use of fossil fuels. According to Rudyk, this applies to 99 percent of the hydrogen produced, while one percent is produced using low-emission processes. The ratio has reversed for patent applications: In 2020, 80 percent of inventions related to low-emission production options and 20 percent to fossil applications: “We are seeing a shift in production from fossil materials to low-emission production options,” he said.
It is also important for the International Energy Agency to know how high the proportion of greenhouse gas emissions is in hydrogen production. “Hydrogen from low-emission sources can play an important role in the clean energy transition and has the potential to replace fossil fuels in industries where clean alternatives are few, such as long-distance transportation and fertilizer production,” said Executive Director Fatih Birol. The study shows that inventors are responding to the need for competitive hydrogen supply chains. Further efforts are required in other areas, and particularly with end users.
According to the Patent Office and Energy Agency, the automotive industry stands out among the end uses of hydrogen. Such innovative activity is not evident for the decarbonization of long-distance transport, flying, power generation and heating.
However, countries’ net-zero emissions commitments could not be achieved without reducing fossil fuel use in these sectors. The study authors noticed the steel production positively. There have recently been many patent applications in this area.