Energy transition technologies: the pace of progress?

This data-file aggregates 20 different TSE patent screens, to assess the pace of progress in different energy technologies. Our short, 3-page summary note on the findings is linked here.

Lithium batteries are most actively researched, with 8,300 patents filed in 2019 ex-China. Autonomous vehicles and additive manufacturing technologies are accelerating fastest, with 10-year patent filing CAGRs of 22% and 53% respectively.

Wind and solar remain heavily researched, but the technologies are maturing, with patent activity -36% and -76% from peak, respectively. The steepest deceleration of interest has been in fuel cells and biofuels, declining at -10% pa and -7% since 2009.

It remains interesting to compare the pace of progress within sub-industries; for example, more supercapacitor patents were filed in 2019 than nuclear patents; while hydraulic fracturing patents remain the most intense focus area within conventional oil and gas.

One hundred years of innovation: global patent filings from 1920?

This data-file breaks down the number of patents that have been filed globally since 1920, across 150 different categories, to illustrate the pace of technological progress, across each industrial sub-segment.

The data are also sub-divided by geography, across the US, China and Japan, which are contrasted in c30 charts. Depressingly, the US’s share of global patent filings has recently declined back toward all time lows, while a vast acceleration has seen China filing 70% of all global patents.

China’s lead is also widening in 135 out of 150 patent categories in our data-set. This may suggest trade tensions are on course to accelerate further. It also holds implications for policymakers, as Western decarbonization must be balanced with industrial competitiveness.

Lithium ion batteries for electric vehicles: what challenges?

This data-file tabulates the greatest challenges for lithium ion batteries in electric vehicles, which have been cited in 2020’s patent literature. Specifically, the work contains a sample of 100 patents aiming to overcome these challenges, as filed by companies including Tesla, CATL, GM, GS Yuasa, LG, Nissan, Panasonic, Sanyo, Sumitomo, Toyota, et al.

Our notes and conclusions are spelled out in detail. We find the industry is clearly entering execution mode, and less focused on radical breakthroughs in energy density. CATL and Tesla’s pursuit of a “million mile battery” is substantiated, but includes trade-offs. The patent disclosures also suggest great difficulties in ever achieving a battery-powered semi-truck.

Vestas: where’s the IP?

This data-file aggregates 2,000 patents filed by Vestas and compares them with 15,000 patents filed by its competitors. This allows us to conclude that Vestas likely has an edge in wind technology.

Vestas’s largest turbines are currently 10MW, smaller than the monster 12-15MW turbines making headlines from GE and Siemens. This is because Vestas’s focus is elsewhere, and not simply on the largest nameplate capacity.

Vestas’s patents focus on reliability, operability, digital monitoring, ease of installation, ease of maintenance and the longevity of turbines. It leads the industry by 20-100% on these categories. A steady stream of patents is also being filed to improve manufacturing methods.

Our insights, charts and data are contained in the data-file.

Refinery membranes: where’s the IP?

This data-file reviews over 1,000 patents to identify the technology leaders aiming to use membranes instead of other separation processes (e.g.,  distillation) within refineries.

Covered companies in the screen include Air Liquide, Air Products,  Aramco, BASF, BP, Chevron,  Dow, ExxonMobil, GE, Honeywell, IFP, MTR, Praxair, Shell, WR Grace and Zeon. A brief overview is prented for each company, along with a summary of their recent patent filings, and all the underlying details.

Operational data are also presented for two interesting cases: Exxon’s recent refinery membrane breakthrough (chart below) and Air Products’s PRISM membranes for hydrogen separation.

Tesla: where’s the IP?

This data-file compiles all of Tesla’s patents, classifies them across 1,000 patent families, and describes their innovations.

Our conclusion is that Tesla holds less patented IP than rival auto-companies. However, where it has filed patents, it is more focused on pure EV technologies, such as batteries, electric circuitry, electric propulsion and digital features (chart above).

Patent filings since 2019 have focused on big data/digital technologies, solar and improved batteries (including novel electrolyte systems using lithium fluorates, borates and other improved additives).

Phase change materials: technology leaders?

Phase change materials are an emerging materials class, which can store and release heat (or coldness) as they change beween solid and liquid phases. Our recent research finds they can improve the efficiency of cold storage by c20%, at attractive economics, which is superior to any other battery.

The aim of this data file is to identify the technology leaders in phase change materials, by quantifying 21,000 patents filed into the topic, and compiling a list of 5,800 patents by over 125 companies in the space.

The leading patent filers are ranked in the Leaders tab, and can be filtered by sub-sectors (shown above are companies in the refrigeration and air conditioning industry). All the raw data across 5,800 patents follow in the final tab.

Hydrogen vehicles and fuelling stations: where’s the IP?

We have tabulated 18,600 patents into hydrogen vehicles and vehicle fuelling stations, then cleaned the data to identify technology leaders.

Included are large auto-makers, industrial gas companies, Energy Majors and hydrogen specialists; each with a different focus.

Overall, reading the patents indicates the array of challenges into hydrogen that need to be solved in order to scale up the use of the fuel in transport.

Battery Patents: Lithium Leaders and New Breakthroughs?

This data-file tabulates the number of patents filed into different types of batteries, by year and by geography. Hence, we have identified the patent leaders in lithium ion technology, based on 158,000 patents and the battery materials that they descibe (above).

Continued cost-deflation in lithium ion is suggested by the 26,000 patents filed in 2019, which has doubled in the past 5-years (below), led by China (two-thirds of the patents). The data-file also shows a clear technology leader, while some companies are accelerating. Others are pulling back on R&D or over-concentrating on cobalt.

Competition is accelerating, making leading technologies important. We recently argued supercapacitors could be better suited for hybridizing industry and transport. Moreover, redox flow batteries are emergingas the most exciting new battery technology for grid storage, with patent activity doubling since 2014, to 894 in 2019 (also above). Hence we include notes on ESS Inc.

Interest has been waning in solid state batteries (-57% since 2014) and liquid metal batteries (-67%).

A description of each battery type is shown in the ‘battery types’ tab. Download the data-file for a break-out of the data by country.

Autonomous vehicles: where’s the IP?

This data-file quantifies the number of patents filed into autonomous vehicles, by year, by geography and by patent family, looking across 37,000 patent filings since  the year 2000. Patent activity has risen at a 27% CAGR over the past decade, indicating a rapid pace of research activity.

The leading patent filers are ranked, including some of the world’s leading automotive companies, tech companies and retail companies. It is interesting to compare the relative activity levels among companies such as Denso, MobilEye, TuSimple, Uber, Waymo and Zoox (recently acquired by Amazon), versus Ford, GM, Honda, Toyota, Volvo et al.

Our notes and a data-pull of all the underlying 2019 patents follow. We find autonomous vehicles could entrench a 10% acceleration in road travel post-COVID, and displace c15% of all air-miles on sub-1,000 mile journeys.