Image: EPO/IEA

Battery and other electricity storage technology innovation has grown four times faster than other technology fields since 2005, patenting activity reveals.

The study by the European Patent Office and the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that in the period 2005 to 2018, patenting activity in electricity storage technologies grew at an average annual rate of 14% worldwide.

In 2018, more than 7,000 international patent families related to electricity storage were published. The number in 2005 was a little over 1,000. This level of growth compares with an average 3.5% for all technology areas across the economy.

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The study further found that almost 90% of all patenting activity in electricity storage is accounted for by batteries. This is due in part to the use of lithium-ion batteries in the growing array of personal devices and tools. But the data points to the much larger driver in recent years being clean energy technologies and electric mobility in particular, alongside the need to integrate larger quantities of renewables.

“Electricity storage technology is critical when it comes to meeting the demand for electric mobility and achieving the shift towards renewable energy that is needed if we are to mitigate climate change,” said EPO president António Campinos. “The rapid and sustained rise in electricity storage innovation shows that inventors and businesses are tackling the challenge of the energy transition.

Li-ion battery technologies

Another finding in the study is that nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) cathode chemistry has seen the most innovative breakthroughs related to Li-ion batteries since the launch of mass market electric vehicles. However, potentially disruptive competitors are emerging, in particular lithium nickel cobalt aluminium oxide (NCA).

Challenges for electric mobility are to improve the power output, durability, charge/discharge speed and recyclability of batteries, rather than maximising the energy density and stability as in the early days of development.

The third key finding in the study is that the global battery technology race is being led by Asian companies, in particular Panasonic and Toyota in Japan and Samsung and LG Electronics in Korea. Only Bosch from Germany is the one non-Asian company to feature in the global top ten.

This is pushing other countries to develop competitive advantages in specific parts of the battery value chain. The US and Europe can count on a rich innovation ecosystem, including a large number of SMEs and research institutions, to help them stay in the race for the next generation of batteries, according to the report.

But watch out for China. As of 2018 Chinese storage innovation had almost caught up with Europe and now makes a similar contribution to the United States, the report adds.