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Hydrogen for transport gets a green light in global innovation

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Global Hydrogen Review,

Innovation in the priority energy technology of green hydrogen is reaching record highs, according to the latest report into global patent filings.

The second annual edition of the Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report 2022, from leading intellectual property firm Appleyard Lees, analyses patent filings across several key environmental issues facing the world, including energy technology and potential solutions such as green hydrogen.

While the patent filing rate for green hydrogen production via electrolysis of water has increased steadily since the 1990s, it leapt by 160% in the second half of the 2010s.

Patent attorney Chris Mason, Senior Associate at Appleyard Lees said: “Hydrogen is enjoying renewed and rapidly growing attention, particularly as its combustion produces no carbon dioxide, very little air pollution and it has the potential to decarbonise heavy industries where it’s both difficult and urgent. However, as grey hydrogen still dominates the market – and creates an environmental impact – the technology needs significant innovation and capital investment across production, storage and use for green hydrogen to help the world meet its climate goals.”

Meanwhile, At COP27, a ‘multi-stakeholder public-private platform’ – the Global Renewable Hydrogen Forum – was launched to “facilitate large-scale deployment of renewable hydrogen” and the European Commission is scheduled to sign a memorandum of understanding with Egypt for co-operation on renewable hydrogen, to facilitate the development of a hydrogen economy.

Growth in the transport sector – but can the handbrake be released?

The use of blue and green hydrogen in fuel cells to power transport is growing, with a recent upsurge in patent filing for innovations in trains, buses, trucking and lightweight aircraft in particular.

Increased innovation in hydrogen fuel cells is being driven by improvements in electrical and mechanical engineering and focused on safety and function – such as gas detection – and diagnosis of faults in pressure and control of valves and machinery, important for commercial transport.

However, for widespread application in cars the distribution and storage of hydrogen, as well as the re-fuelling of hydrogen tanks, are major challenges to be met before this energy source can realistically find mass application outside of the heavy-transport sector.

Currently, on-board refuelling – involving high-pressure gas cylinders – is attracting the most patent filings versus off-board regeneration options such as chemical hydrides. Away from the tanks themselves, French industrial gas business, Air Liquide is focusing its innovation and patent activity on refuelling stations and the infrastructure for replenishing on-board tanks.

Chemistry innovation commands green hydrogen production

Innovation in green hydrogen production from electrolysis, according to the latest patent filings, comes mainly from chemical rather than electrical and mechanical engineering aspects.

Each of the three principal electrolysis methods for producing green hydrogen – alkaline, polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) and solid oxide electrolysis – are all seeing innovation, with significant growth in numbers of patents filed in the past five years.

Mason explained: “Future advances in industrialising green hydrogen production are likely to come from developments in materials, surfaces and coatings, but more disruptive innovations relating to the broader process should also not be ruled out.”

Multinational companies including Honda, Toshiba, Siemens and Linde are leading the way in patent filings, along with specialist hydrogen start-up businesses like South Korea’s Kwatercraft and more established firms including Japan’s Kobeico ECO solutions.

“Hydrogen technology still needs to advance significantly in some areas, in particular production, distribution, and storage – with technology support via high levels of capital investment and government support – before it can become truly viable and mainstream, but it is clear that industry sees a way forward with increasing investment in innovation,” Mason added.

The Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report 2022’s focus on hydrogen was chosen because of its prominence in the global green innovation conversation, as referenced in the OECD’s and United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Green Innovation Database, a global innovation catalogue that connects needs for solving environmental or climate change problems with sustainable solutions.

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