Progress in hydrogen technology is encouraging but the IEA say more is required

The International Energy Agency (the IEA) has called for strong innovation support for the hydrogen sector to ensure critical hydrogen technologies reach commercialisation soon, and a bottleneck in global decarbonisation is avoided.

The IEA’s Global Hydrogen Review 2021, published earlier this month, estimates global investment on hydrogen must increase to $1.2 trillion by 2030 so that net zero emissions by 2050 can be realised. Currently only around a quarter of that figure has been pledged by governments and investors.


Recent investment trends according to the review are, nonetheless, encouraging.

The first half of 2021, for example, has seen a significant increase in early-stage investment for hydrogen related start-ups compared to 2020 as a whole (over $400 million and $200 million respectively). European start-ups and start-ups engaged in project development and service are the main drivers behind this increase.

Government R&D spending on hydrogen technologies has also seen a recent uptick, led by the Chinese government’s six-fold increase in R&D expenditure in 2019. If sustained, government R&D support for hydrogen would return to levels not seen since the late 2000s, when hydrogen spending accounted for above 5% of total clean energy R&D.


On patenting, international patent families relevant to hydrogen production, storage and distribution saw a 52% increase in filing activity in 2019 compared to 2010.

Fuel cell filing activity has remained relatively stable over the same period, and in 2019 outnumbered hydrogen production, storage and distribution filing activity by around 3:1.

Such differences in filing dynamics are considered to reflect (1) a greater market readiness for fuel cells, and (2) long-term investment and R&D into fuel cells by Japanese entities.

Further insight into hydrogen patenting activity, again by the EPO and the IEA, is expected in early 2022.

The filing activity differences highlighted in the review are an indicator of the hydrogen technology ecosystem spanning several technology readiness levels or TRLs.

Here, the IEA’s hydrogen TRL analysis identifies several technologies at the prototype stage, including anion exchange membranes and photocatalytic or thermochemical water splitting, which one may expect to be areas of future filing growth. Hydrogen for medium-sized aircraft, as an application area, is similarly early stage.


As noted by the IEA:

“Of the 60 Gt of CO2 emissions that hydrogen-based fuels can avoid in the Net zero Emissions Scenario, 55 Gt are achieved after 2030, reflecting that most end-use technologies for such fuels are not yet commercially available.”

The IEA’s Global Hydrogen Review 2021 follows national publications, such as the UK government’s hydrogen strategy, that aim to keep the world on track to meet net zero emissions by 2050.

As such, and in view of the IEA’s call for a step-change in hydrogen investment, the outlook for IP opportunities in hydrogen remains positive; indeed, the short-term is likely to see significant expansion and evolution in hydrogen innovations.

To find out more about how IP can help you create commercial value from your hydrogen innovations, feel free to contact any of our fuel cells and hydrogen team.