Innovation Increase in Energy Storage for Renewables and Solid-State Batteries for EVs – New Report

The imperative to create a consistent energy supply from renewable sources – and support the phasing out of fossil fuels – is inspiring investment in long-term energy storage innovation, a new report says.

And global innovation data for electric vehicle (EV) batteries suggests industry is increasing its investment in solid-state technology significantly.

The inaugural Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report 2021, from leading intellectual property firm Appleyard Lees’, analyses patent filings across several key environmental issues facing the world, including long-term energy storage for power generated by sources such as wind and solar and EV energy storage, i.e. batteries

The report points to particular technology advances in compressed air energy storage (CAES), pumped hydro-storage and in solid state batteries for electrical vehicles.

Paul Beynon, Senior Associate at Appleyard Lees said: “While renewable energy has the potential to address our energy needs – and support the recent commitments at COP26 to reduce emissions and phase out fossil fuels including coal – its drawback is achieving consistency of supply.

“This demands technologies that enable energy storage for months rather than weeks. Our research shows that this challenge is generating innovation and resulting patent applications in CAES and pumped hydro-storage.

“Also, the COP26 declaration to make new cars and vans with zero greenhouse gas-emissions in leading markets by 2035, and everywhere by 2040, will need advances in electric vehicle battery technologies that meet this demand for sustainable change.”

Compressed Air Energy Storage – Investing in Efficiency, Reducing Energy Loss

Innovation in this 40-year-old-plus technology is continuing, with an emphasis today on improving efficiency and reducing energy loss in the process.

With Japan and the US leading the way in patent applications, new developments are aimed at creating large-scale, low-cost energy via methods including adiabatic compression and expansion: harnessing thermal energy from the compression of air in a chamber and using it subsequently during the expansion of the air.

“Analysis of patent data suggests significant investment in CAES by Japanese firm, Kobe Steel, including technology to control the extraction of heat from gas during compression using heat exchangers, sensors and flow rate adjusters,” Beynon said.

Pumped Hydro-Storage – Repurposing Fossil Fuel Facilities

With China pushing ahead in patent applications, innovation in this so-called “oldest kind of large-scale energy storage” is on the increase.

And its need for large facilities has led to patent applications – such as those from the China University of Mining and Technology – relating to the conversion of underground mine space (potentially, previous coal mines) to house pumped hydro-storage plants.

Paul Beynon at Appleyard Lees said: “The need for sustainable, long-term energy storage is driving innovation in these traditional technologies and the challenge is identifying incremental improvements that create a commercial advantage for patent holders.”

Solid-State Battery Technology – Capacity, Lifespan and Recycling Advantages

Based on new patent filings, car companies such as Toyota, Honda and Hyundai appear to be driving solid-state battery technology innovation.

While China is currently trailing Japan in terms of patent activity, a Chinese battery cell manufacturer, Svolt Energy Tech, has filed more than 550 electric vehicle-related applications with over 30 concerning solid-state batteries since 2019 alone. The company’s recent agreement with German chemical business, BASF, is about combining research and development in sustainable battery materials and increasing both companies’ competitiveness in China. Chemical companies such as LG Chem are also becoming prominent players in solid-state battery technology, with the potential to supply key components for battery manufacture.

“Solid-state technology offers a potentially viable battery alternative, with advantages such as higher capacities, longer lifespans, lower greenhouse gas emissions in production, plus a greater opportunity for recycling,” Beynon said.

Along with filing patents early to protect innovation investments and gain commercial advantage, innovators would be wise to consider countries with generous research and development funding streams.”

Li-ion Battery Technology – Incremental Improvements

Though patent filings for Li-ion technology have been declining across the world for the past decade, activity in China has increased hugely, likely associated with the country’s green technology drive, its leading battery manufacturing position and interest from motor manufacturers.

The European exception is Germany, where government investment and German car manufacturers are generating ongoing interest in this technology area. For example, engineering and technology firm, Robert Bosch GmbH has filed the most Li-on technology-related applications over 10 years.

However, the use of the technology in mining and chemical treatment has led to patent filings from related companies, such as JX Nippon Mining and Sanyo Chemical Industries.

Paul Beynon at Appleyard Lees said: “Patent filings in Li-ion technology show significant R&D to improve electrochemical performance. Across both Li-ion and solid-state, there is also investment in improving energy density by replacing the active materials, particularly the positive anode.”

Other innovations suggested by patent data include employing materials that are easier to recycle, dispose of or use in second life applications.

“Smaller companies may see greater opportunity for R&D in battery recycling and second life use rather than battery manufacture itself, which is already well-populated by large organisations. Meanwhile, even minor improvements in Li-ion battery performance would be beneficial to investors,” Beynon said.

“Overall, our inaugural Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report 2021 aims to by-pass the environmental rhetoric and highlight the true state of progress in developing new, sustainable technologies.

“The patent system requires public disclosure of new innovations, providing a valuable resource to identify the issues of the day and which ‘hot’ innovations could bring new advantages to the world.”

The Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report 2021’s focus on energy (along with plastics and agriculture) was chosen because of its prominence in the global green innovation conversation, as referenced in the OECD’s and United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Green Innovation Database, a global innovation catalogue that connects needs for solving environmental or climate change problems with sustainable solutions.

*Appleyard Lees’ inaugural Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report 2021 is available to read here.


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