The EPO and IEA research findings show that, since the early 2000s, lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery technology has fuelled a large number of the growing battery innovations since the early 2000s. In fact, the patenting activity of general battery technologies has grown at an annual average rate of 14% between 2005 and 2018.
The September 2020 report, ‘Innovation in Batteries and Electricity Storage’, illustrates just how much of a prominent research area battery technology is. It is attracting significant attention from researchers and design engineers the world over—and according to the report, 90% of energy storage-related patents filed at the EPO between 2000 and 2018 concerned R&D in battery technology alone.
Charging battery graphic. Image Credit: Pixabay.
Driving Innovations in Lithium-ion Battery Technology
The report identified electric vehicles (EVs) as the largest driver of Li-ion battery technology innovations.
This is hardly surprising given that—even in spite of the increasingly mainstream status of electric vehicles—EVs have several barriers to their adoption, with efficient and long-lasting energy storage being the most prominent one. And although recent improvements in energy density have made EVs more viable for regular motorists, there’s still a long way to go, and that’s a chief reason why EVs are driving a majority of the research in this area. In 2011, in fact, EVs overtook consumer electronics like smartphones as the biggest driver of Li-ion battery-related R&D; and in 2018 alone, over 7,000 patents were filed in the EV battery space.
According to the EPO and IEA report, companies in South Korea and Japan are leading the way in EV research and development. The report lists the top 25 applicant companies for patents in battery technology between 2000 and 2018. Only six of these 25 companies are based in Europe along with two in the United States. In Europe, Germany leads the way as the continent’s automotive capital with 5,080 international patent families (or ‘IPFs’, as the EPO calls them) between 2000 and 2018—well ahead of France’s 1,354 IPFs and the UK’s 652 IPFs.
Battery R&D Potential for the UK
As has been widely reported here on Electronics Point and by other publications, Li-ion technology has several inherent weaknesses and drawbacks that have held back progress in certain applications (both at the consumer and industrial levels). In the EPO-published report, the EPO and IEA researchers touch on these drawbacks and their solutions that are currently in development. These include redox flow batteries and new supercapacitors.
In both of the above areas, it’s once again Japan and South Korea that are dominating in terms of patent volume. However, one European firm does feature prominently on the list, however: Cheshire, England-based Acal Energy is rated fourth in the EPO and IEA report for its number of IPFs in the redox flow technology field. This, alongside other exciting developments like Tesla’s potential UK gigafactory, suggest that UK firms could well begin to catch up on their Asian counterparts—particularly as more battery technology research and development takes place in the near future.