Hydrogen production with electrolysers is emerging

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.  

  • 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.

International patent families

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 National 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).