What patents data tells us about current energy storage innovation levels

Jon Lawson

The European Patent Office and International Energy Agency (IEA) has published a new report giving insights into current battery development, writes Andrew Thompson. For example, in the UK innovation activity is the third highest in Europe. Much of this activity is due to the surge in electric vehicle manufacturing as manufacturers compete for their share of a growing global market for battery electric vehicles (BEVs). The report confirms that patent-filings for battery-related inventions soared to a record high of more than 7,000 in 2018 and BEV production has been the biggest driver of this activity since 2011.

Entitled ‘Innovation in batteries and electricity storage’ the report shows that inventions in batteries accounted for nine in 10 electricity storage patents filed at the European Patent Office (EPO) between 2000 and 2018, far outweighing those related to other means of storage. A rapid acceleration in patent-filing activity related to the manufacture of battery cells and other cell-related engineering was also noted in the three years to 2018.

From a global perspective, the report reveals that Asian companies in countries including Japan and South Korea are leading the battery tech innovation race. In fact, a list of the top 25 applicants in battery tech for 2000-2018 includes just six companies in Europe and two in the US. In Europe, companies in Germany are leading the way in electricity storage innovation, filing 5,080 international patent families (IPFs) between 2000 and 2018, ahead of those in France (1,354) and the UK (652).

It is clear that the battery innovation sector is maturing quickly and patent-filing activity has grown exponentially between 2000-2018. Much of this is due to increasing investment in the development of BEVs for the mass market.

Efficient and long-lasting electricity storage has been a barrier to the take-up of electric vehicles for many years, but recent improvements in the storage capacity of lithium-ion batteries have increased the appeal of BEVs and made them more commercially viable.

With a significant amount of innovation activity taking place in the UK, Britishvolt has announced plans to invest £1.2bn in the development of a new Gigafactory in South Wales, producing batteries for electric vehicles. Work is expected to start early next year, with a view to the plant opening in 2023. The UK Government has also invested £128m in battery-related development, including the creation of the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre. Based on this level of investment in the sector, the proportion of battery tech innovation taking place in the UK is likely to increase in the next few years.

Much of the focus for innovators to date has been on the development of improvements to lithium-ion batteries and this is evidently the dominant technology. However, as the market reaches maturity, there is still room for disruptive tech to provide alternative solutions. There are some emerging technologies showing potential, such as supercapacitors and redox flow batteries. 

Andrew Thompson is partner and patent attorney at European intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers.

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