Europe Acquired Most Global Patents for Hydrogen Tech During 2011-20

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Europe and Japan accounted for 28% and 24% of global patents for hydrogen production technologies between 2011 and 2020, a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said.

Further, the report said that startups with patents cornered more than half of the $10 billion venture capital investment into hydrogen companies worldwide during this period.

Over 80% of late-stage investment in hydrogen startups during 2011-2020 went to companies that had already applied for patents in areas like electrolysis, fuel cells, or low-emission methods to produce H2 from gas.

The patenting data revealed that low-emission innovations generated over twice the International Patent Families (IPF) across all segments of the hydrogen value chain compared to the already established technologies.

Europe’s focus on manufacturing

The European Union has focussed on both acquiring patents and strengthening manufacturing capacity. With significant advancements in the areas of polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolyzer and alkaline technologies, European chemical companies specialize in the production and handling of hydrogen from fossil fuels.

Figure 1Share of IPFs in various stages of hydrogen development (Source: IEA)

Share of IPFs in various stages of hydrogen development (Source: IEA)


While Germany acquired 11% of the global IPFs during 2011-2020, France acquired 6% and the Netherlands acquired 3%.

To support research, innovation, and the first industrial deployment of the hydrogen value chain in Europe, 13 European member states are providing public funding of €5.2 billion (~$5.12 billion) to unlock an additional €7 billion (~$7 billion) in private investments.

The global electrolyzer market is expected to rise from 1 GW currently to over 65 GW per year by 2030 under announced government pledges. Europe apart, Japan acquired most patents for alkaline and cutting-edge PEM technologies during 2011-2020. However, these technologies await investments in manufacturing capacity.

U.S. lagging in innovation

The U.S. led in developing PEM manufacturing capacity, but is comparatively slower in innovation, given the reduced number of patents it applied for during the period. There has been a 20% decline in IPFs in the U.S. with the country covering 20% of all hydrogen-related patents.

South Korea and China are the two other countries where patenting for electrolyzer technologies gained momentum, with heavy investments in manufacturing capacities.

The report tracks that the IPFs related to water splitting technology via non-electrolyte methods have also decreased since 2010 and represented 12% of the total IPFs published in the field of electrolysis, in 2020. Patenting in H2 production from biomass or waste increased sharply between 2007 and 2011, but has dropped significantly since then, the report found.

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol observed, “Hydrogen from low-emissions sources can play an important role in clean energy transitions with the potential to replace fossil fuels in industries where few clean alternatives exist, like long-haul transport and fertilizer 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.”

Patents increase among automotive players

Of all the segments competing to acquire a patent, automotive companies realized the importance of on-board hydrogen storage to boost the commercialization of hydrogen-powered vehicles. The

Patenting for long-distance transportation of hydrogen increased rapidly during the period, with compound average growth rates (CAGR) of 12.5% for liquid organic hydrocarbons (LOHC), and 7.8% for ammonia cracking.

In October last year, Amazon said it would invest more than €1 billion (~$973 million) until 2027 to electrify and decarbonize the transportation network across Europe.

India also approved the National Green Hydrogen Mission recently with an initial outlay of ₹197.44 billion (~$2.3 billion). The production target set by the government until 2030 is likely to leverage over ₹8 trillion (~$96.5 billion) in investments while creating more than 600,000 jobs.