The number of carbon capture patents granted around the world rose by 22% from 167 in 2019 to 203 last year.
This is the fifth year running the total has increased and when one considers only 62 carbon capture and storage patents were granted in 2015, it shows just how hard the world is looking to find an alternative to fossil fuels.
Interestingly the energy sector has filed the most carbon capture patents with 32, or 16% of the total. The other industries involved include cement and concrete plants, sewage and refuse treatment plants, mining, agriculture, iron and steel and construction.
And the scope of the patents is starting to show an increasingly diverse range of innovation is in play. Recently, we have seen new patents relating to using carbon capture to remove carbon from the emissions captured during cancer treatment and capture the carbon emitted during the production of coke.
Digging into the data, you immediately see that China is behind the increase in the number of carbon capture patents being granted. In 2020 China - long criticised for being the world’s largest emitter of carbon emissions and for being responsible for more than half the world’s coal power generation - filed 165 (or 81%) of the world’s carbon capture patents.
The US came a very distant second, with 18 new patents. The UK only registered two. This is despite the UK government continually making very public announcements as to their intention to catalyse our journey to net zero emissions, a campaign that peaked with Glasgow’s hosting of the COP26 conference in October 2021, and committing £1bn to implementing a working carbon capture infrastructure by 2023.
WHY IS CARBON CAPTURE INCREASING IN POPULARITY?
Carbon capture is a proven method of removing and storing CO2 from gasses emitted by industrial processes. As such, carbon capture is increasing in popularity because it provides industry with a way to reduce their carbon emissions and satisfy the world’s increasing need to develop a greener global economy. It also provides a way to try to undo some of the harm we have already done to the atmosphere.
Better still, the gases are now increasingly being stored in empty oil and gas reservoirs or coalbeds, and more and more of the CO2 being captured is being re-purposed for use in the production of commercial products. Together, these two extensions make carbon capture even more attractive.
With all this in play, there is a growing belief that carbon capture and storage will play a key role in addressing climate change. This belief will only grow as new and more innovative ways to capture, store and reuse carbon emissions are found.
WHAT IS PREVENTING CARBON CAPTURE FROM HAVING THE IMPACT IT SHOULD?
Today, carbon capture takes care of less than 1% of the ongoing global carbon emissions. While this is expected to increase rapidly (according to some estimates, from 56 million tonnes per year today, to between 4 and 8 billion tonnes per year by 2050), any increase will require the manufacturers of carbon capture technologies to work out how to scale up the amount of CO2 being captured without increasing the associated costs.
Admittedly this is a nut multiple industries have been trying to crack since the early 70s, but even though numerous projects were started, they were quickly terminated. The primary reason for their termination was cost; in the steel industry, the cost of carbon capture can be as much as US$120/tonne, while in the cement industry it can be up to $200/tonne.
SO, HOW DO WE SOLVE THIS PROBLEM?
We still believe innovation will continue to be the major factor in increasing the impact carbon capture and storage has on the world’s attempts to decarbonise.
However, using these innovative technologies at a level that will make the required impact will involve more than just brilliant new ideas. Innovation will have to be structured in a way that will allow productivity to be scaled up. The existing processes and the business models behind them will need to be challenged and adapted.
‘Coopetition’ is one option being examined. This is the term being used to describe joining forces with competitors to share clusters of carbon emissions and share transport and storage infrastructures.
Many feel this is an approach that will encourage the creation of a carbon disposal industry to replace the fragmented autonomous projects currently being run (although admittedly there are more and more collaborations between industry and government appearing in different parts of the world).
Theoretically the ‘coopetition’ model is all about scaling up and should help to reduce costs by providing much greater economies of scale, especially if the sources of the relevant emissions are closest to each other.
WHAT PART WILL PATENTS AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY PLAY IN THE NEXT PHASE OF CARBON CAPTURE TECHNOLOGY?
Although the impact carbon capture could have on climate change will undoubtedly be significant, this will only persuade more and more companies to get involved as the financial potential of finding a practical, viable and scalable means of capturing and storing carbon becomes evident.
However, with increased competition comes increased risk, the risk of having your innovation copied, misappropriated or used unlawfully.
This means you will only be able to properly leverage the true value of your carbon capture technologies if they are patented. Patents are crucial to protecting and maximising your commercial advantage in what will be an increasingly busy and competitive market as we continue to transition towards a genuinely green economy.
However, if scaling up is reliant on the widescale adoption of ‘coopetition’ or any other collaborative models, intellectual property will have an even bigger part to play.
If you are planning to create partnerships or joint ventures to increase the productivity and performance of your carbon capture technologies, the ownership of the intellectual property involved will need to be carefully examined, defined and assigned. Moreover, your new venture will need to be underpinned by the right commercial and licencing agreements.
This is where we will help.
Our specialist multidisciplinary energy and cleantech team is made up of patent attorneys, IP solicitors and trade mark attorneys who know exactly how to steer you through the complex world of intellectual property rights.
We will make sure your most valuable assets are not only fully protected but managed in a way that will maximise the commercial value of your carbon capture (or any other cleantech or environmentally focussed) innovations.
If you would like to discuss how best to protect and commercialise your latest carbon capture or cleantech innovation, please contact our specialist energy and cleantech team.