Hydrogen production with electrolysers is emerging
A joint study published today by the European Patent Office (EPO) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) uses patent statistics to reveal the trends and dynamism in the exciting field of hydrogen that can be produced using renewable electricity via electrolysis. Among the report's key findings was that patent filings for hydrogen production technologies have grown on average by 18% each year since 2005.
Renewables-based hydrogen can be used as feedstock for the chemical sector and as fuel in fuel cells where the only by-product is water. It can also replace fossil sources in synthetic fuels, for example, when combined with captured carbon. Additionally, hydrogen is abundant and can be obtained through the electrolysis of water, using renewable electricity, in the presence of electrocatalysts. These factors make hydrogen very attractive as a green energy source - but only provided that its production, through electrolysers, is green too.
The report tracks the evolution of patent filings over the last 15 years and highlights several trends, including:
- In 2016, the number of patent families for water electrolysis technologies surpassed the number of patents related to producing hydrogen from fossil sources (e.g. solid or liquid coal and oil-based hydrogen sources).
- In 2018, inventions for electrocatalysts based on cheaper minerals surpassed the number of inventions based on more traditional but expensive electrocatalysts (which use e.g. gold, silver, platinum or other noble metals), confirming the drive for cheaper alternatives. This trend is pronounced and demonstrated by a surge in Chinese national patent filings.
- Photo electrolysis is a strong newly emerging technology that can integrate electricity and hydrogen production in a single step, potentially lowering production costs. The report notes an above average number of international patent families in this area - some 50% of which are filed by universities.
The demands for cleaner energy have never been greater. Although patent filings show a steep increase, the report underlines that major innovations in electrolyser technology are still needed to further reduce its costs and make it market-ready at industrial levels. This situation could change in the future with the recent introduction of major programmes worldwide such as the European Commission's dedicated "Strategy on hydrogen". With its charts and commentary, today's report is useful to technologists, companies and investors wanting to better understand these rapidly expanding technology domains.
Through its environmental policy, the Office is committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The EPO-IRENA study is focused on renewable energy and therefore contributes to UN SDG 7 (Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all).