Most countries in the world have pledged to achieve “net zero” gas emissions by 2050, and many have taken a number of steps to accelerate the transition to clean energy and reduce emissions.

While the success of these efforts will depend on a variety of factors including policy, technology and infrastructure development, a recently published report by the European Patent Office (EPO) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests that the number of patent applications concerning hydrogen related technologies can serve as a good indicator of which countries and sectors are best positioned to attract investments and develop solutions needed to transform from fossil fuel based production to low emission methods.

The report, which represents the most exhaustive and global up-to-date investigation of hydrogen-relating patenting so far,  analyzed global patent data and covered a broad range of technologies from supply chain to end-use applications. The study found that the EU and Japan lead global hydrogen related technologies patenting, accounting for 28% and 24% respectively.

The leading country in Europe is Germany with 11% of the total, followed by France 6% and the Netherlands 3%. While the US holds third place with 20% of all hydrogen related patents, it is interesting to note that the number of applications has been declining over the past decade. Other countries generating significant volume of hydrogen patents include United Kingdom, Switzerland and Canada.

The breakdown of the numbers of patent innovations across the supply chain shows that among all hydrogen patents filed between 2011 and 2020, the hydrogen production technology accounted for the largest number of applications, specifically technologies for low emissions methods such as fuel cells, producing hydrogen from gas and electrolysis, a sector in which Europe has gained an edge in new manufacturing capacity.

In terms of industries that file most hydrogen patent application, the automotive and the chemical industries have gained the strongest momentum regarding innovation and patenting. Furthermore, Universities and Public Research Institutes generated 13% of all hydrogen related international patents between 2011 and 2020.

However, other industries such as long-term transport, aviation, power generation and heating are slower to look for innovative ways to use hydrogen and reduce CO2 emissions, which raises concerns about some countries meeting their net zero pledges by 2050.