Global innovation in green technologies shows marked increase via patent activity – new report

DATE 14th December 2021

Business and research institution investment in green technology innovation – shown by the latest global patent filing activity – indicates increasing advances in some vital sectors, a new report says.

The inaugural Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report 2021, from leading intellectual property firm Appleyard Lees, analyses patent filings across several key areas of green innovation, including plastics, energy storage, and agriculture.

Common themes arising from the technologies being patented across these key industry sectors include:

  • Intense activity in green technologies that offer transformational solutions, such as agricultural drones used in precision farming, in vitro meat production and plastics recycling.
  • Improving mature technologies to help achieve net zero emissions via newer, renewable methods – such as innovation in long-term energy storage.
  • Producing new eco-friendly materials – such as biopolymers for plastics – to enhance environmental performance of the products they’re used in, for example in single-use plastic packaging.
  • Re-purposing fossil fuel facilities for greener applications – such as converting former mineworks to pumped hydro-storage plants.
  • Innovation responding to legislative pressures and consumer demands in certain countries.

David Walsh, Partner at Appleyard Lees, 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 which innovations could bring new advantages to the world.”

Highlights of environmental innovation and associated patent filings across the technology spectrum of Appleyard Lees’ report include:

Bioplastics/plastics recycling

  • An upsurge in bioplastics – and acceleration in plastics recycling – innovation.
  • Finding affordable eco-friendly alternatives to existing plastics while maintaining functionality.
  • A focus on biopolymer composition and structure for greater strength and flexibility, as well as biodegradability.
  • Improving processes for breaking down and recycling polymers.

Battery storage

  • Solid-state battery technology challenging lithium-ion for future dominance in electric vehicles, offering advantages such as higher capacity, longer lifespan and lower greenhouse gas emissions in production.
  • Lithium-ion attracting ongoing investment in countries such as China and Germany, plus applications in non-vehicle industries including mining and chemical treatment.

Long-term energy storage

  • Continued investment in long-established technologies, such as compressed air energy storage (CAES) and pumped hydro-storage.
  • Dominant players emerging in particular industries and countries for CAES, such as Kobe Steel in Japan.
  • Patent filings in China to support conversion of former coal mines to pumped hydro-storage plants.

Conventional farming

  • Significant increase in agricultural drone patent applications – aimed at improving crop fertilisation, irrigation and pesticide application as well as sowing seeds and using sensors.
  • Rapid growth in CRISPR gene modifying technology to help crops become more tolerant to weather conditions, herbicides and bacteria.

Non-animal and soilless food production

  • Increasing patent activity in cultured meat production, including better recycling and removal of all animal elements.
  • Improvements in vertical farming including nutrient control, LED lighting and sensors for data collection.

The Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report 2021’s focus on plastics, energy and agriculture was chosen because the prominence of these topics 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.