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.

LNG liquefaction: what challenges and opportunities?

This data-file tracks patent progress into LNG liquefaction plants from 2020, by reviewing forty recent patent filings from leading companies in the industry (integrated oil companies and service providers).

We reach three key conclusions:  (1) LNG capex costs should not be overly fixated upon, as they can come at the expense of higher opex and emissions intensities. (2) The next generation of modular plants offer a step-change from the first generation. (3) And new process technologies are helping to improve efficiency across different LNG process units and their fabrication.

The full data-file spells out our conclusions,  with details on each of the underlying patents, a review of companies filing LNG patents in 2020.

Metal organic frameworks: what challenges and opportunities?

This data-file reviews twenty patents from 2020 into metal organic frameworks, an exciting class of materials which could reduce the energy penalties of CO2-separation by c80% and reduce the ultimate cost from $50-100/ton to $15-30/ton.

The challenge is finding MOFs that are stable and water-resistant, then synthesizing them in continuous, mass-scale processes that do not require expensive solvents.

ExxonMobil has made the most visible recent progress. The data-file also captures smaller-stage companies with interesting patents in 2020.

Also included in the data-file are our notes from technical papers and a simple economic model.

Enhanced geothermal: what challenges?

This data-file tabulates the greatest challenges and focus areas for harnessing deep geothermal energy, based on reviewing 30 recent patents from 20 companies in the space.

The economic opportunity is exciting, with levelized costs of 10c/kWh in areas of ordinary geothermal gradients. Strong progress is also outlined in our deep-dive research note into the topic.

The patents confirm that the largest challenges are drilling long multi-lateral wells, which contact sufficient reservoir volumes to transfer heat from the subsurface into the working fluids, without depleting the geothermal resource.

Recent advances from the unconventional oil and gas industry are likely to be a crucial enabler from deep geothermal, based on the comments made in the patents.

Proton exchange membrane fuel cells: what challenges?

This data-file reviews fifty patents into proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs), filed by leading companies in the space in 2020, in order to understand the key challenges the industry is striving to overcome.

The key focus areas are controlling the temperature, humidity and longevity of hydrogen fuel cells. But unfortunately, we find over half of the proposed solutions are likely to increase end costs.

We remain cautious on the practicalities and the economics of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (2x most costly than conventional vehicles per km, note here) and hydrogen fuel cells for power generation (10x more costly, note here).

Solid oxide fuel cells: what challenges?

This data-file reviews fifty patents into solid oxide fuel cells, filed by leading companies in the space in 2020, in order to understand the key challenges the industry is striving to overcome.

The key focus areas are improving the longevity and efficiency of SOFCs. But unfortunately, we find many of the proposed solutions are likely to increase end costs.

Economics of SOFCs could eventually become very exciting for low-carbon heat and power (model here). But our conclusion from the latest patents is that the technology is not yet on the path to deflate and achieve cost competitiveness in the near-term.

Electric vehicle charging: what challenges?

This data-file tabulates the greatest challenges for charging electric vehicles, based on the recent patent literature, looking across fifty patents filed by leading companies.

Our top three conclusions are that EV charging will require complex algorithms to ensure grid stability, creating an opportunity for big data companies; vehicle-manufacturers are concerned about balancing the convenience of EV charging with the investment costs of charging networks; while interestingly, increasing speed of charging is not a primary focus.

Our conclusions are typed up in the data-file, plus the full back-up of patents from large OEMs, EV-charging specialists, capital goods companies that make components and tech giants, working on optimization algorithms.

Solar power: what challenges?

Solar panel costs have been deflating at a rate of c20% per annum as the industry scales up into manufacturing mode. The IEA recently stated solar could thus provide the “cheapest electricity in history”.

What next?  To answer this question, we reviewed 70 patents filed by leading solar manufacturers in 2020, in order to see what challenges they are aiming to resolve. We expect deflation to continue apace, while panels will also gain greater efficiency and longevity.

This data-file explains the conclusions, summarizing the findings  from the patents and giving specific examples of gains in the offing.

Specific companies’ focuses can also be seen from the patents. Covered companies include Canadian Solar, Hanergy, Jinko, LG, Miasole, Panasonic, SunPower et  al.

Hydrogen production via electrolysis: what challenges?

This data-file tabulates challenges for the production of green hydrogen via the electrolysis of water, based on the recent patent literature.

Our overall conclusion is to be circumspect around cost deflation. Some inroads compromise efficiency, safety, longevity and reliability.

Full details of the patents and summary of our findings are in the data-file.