The urgent need to find renewable energy resources has brought hydrogen fuels into the spotlight as a promising solution capable of transforming energy systems worldwide. By the end of 2029, the hydrogen market is expected to exceed $260 billion, providing numerous research and business opportunities in this arena. Using data from the CAS content collection, we completed an analysis of global trends in hydrogen fuel research, a few highlights of which we will share here. Having a clear view of this dynamic, rapidly evolving field is critical to accelerate research and capture current and future opportunities in the hydrogen market.
Download our full-length report on hydrogen fuels to gain deeper insight into this technology, the global innovation landscape, market trends and potential applications.
What is all the hype about hydrogen?
90% of the world’s energy supply currently comes from fossil fuels. Our dependence on fossil fuels, a non-renewable source of energy, is not sustainable in the long term. As our global population grows and our reliance on fossil fuels continues to deplete limited natural reserves, there is growing concern about meeting the future energy needs of the world. Moreover, the by-products of fossil fuels damage the environment by releasing toxins, particulate matter, and enhanced CO2 emissions that contribute to global warming.
Over the last two decades, concerns about sustainability and environmental consequences have increased research focus on finding alternative clean energy resources that can meet growing energy demands. There are a number of sustainable energy sources in use and development, including solar, wind, ocean thermal, geothermal and biomass, to name a few; however, when used in isolation, none of these are currently able to provide a sufficient, reliable and cost-effective energy supply.
In the quest for additional, more scalable energy alternatives, hydrogen shows immense promise and is emerging as a primary contender to fossil fuels. Functioning both as a fuel and an energy carrier, hydrogen can also store energy from diverse primary sources, potentially offering greater possibilities as a renewable energy source compared to other alternatives.
Hydrogen fuel technology: Benefits, trends and recent successes
Power generation using hydrogen is based on a fuel cell system originally developed in the 1970s. The fuel cell comprising a cathode, anode and electrolyte produces electrical power through a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. As the reaction generates only water, electricity and heat, using hydrogen doesn’t contribute to the greenhouse effect.
The Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty among 192 participating countries committed to reducing greenhouse emissions, was implemented in 1997. Since then, there have been accelerated efforts to explore and develop hydrogen as an alternative fuel. Our data demonstrates a steady increase in the volume of patents in the hydrogen fuel space since 1997, demonstrating the growing global interest in commercializing this technology.
Staying up to date with global trends in hydrogen fuel development provides guidance to make informed business investments, initiate valuable collaborations and identify hotspots (or hidden gaps) within the research landscape. The CAS content collection reveals important global trends in research and patent filing practices in hydrogen research. Considering these trends from a geographic and industry perspective provides deeper insight into the hydrogen fuel market.
Patent data shows that the Asia Pacific region produces 66.7% of global hydrogen-fuel patents. Japan, the global leader in hydrogen fuel research, produced a third of all inventions, followed closely by China. From a segment perspective, the automotive industry makes the largest contribution to patent filing in the field, as it is directly affected by the transition to renewable energy sources. In Europe, the US and China, the most commonly occurring topic within hydrogen fuel patents was ‘hydrogen storage materials’, followed closely by ‘fuel cells’ highlighting these applications in the transportation industry, as well as commercial and residential heating.
In fact, several countries have recently celebrated successes introducing hydrogen fuel technology for mass-transit applications. For instance, two hydrogen-powered trains entered service in Northern Germany in 2019 to reduce CO2 emissions from conventional diesel-powered transportation. While at the upcoming 2021 Summer Olympics in Japan, hydrogen-powered buses will be used to transport athletes.
Research focused on resolving challenges
Despite its benefits and potential, the field of hydrogen technology faces challenges that impede its immediate broad-scale application. One key challenge is cost. The use of platinum in fuel cells currently makes hydrogen generation expensive, creating a need for the scientific community to explore cost-effective alternatives. Reducing the cost of hydrogen systems and developing economical manufacturing methods is essential if it is to compete with established low-cost petroleum systems.
However, the biggest current barrier hindering hydrogen fuel technology is the difficulty in storing hydrogen. Hydrogen is a lightweight element that is several-fold less dense than conventional fuels. Averting leaks due to the permeability of pressurized gas requires premium materials be used in the construction of storage vessels. Finding the right balance between durability and weight of hydrogen storage systems has been challenging.
The success of hydrogen as a consumer fuel directly depends on finding robust hydrogen storage materials and developing a refined, safe system for transportation. As a result, storing hydrogen gas has emerged as the main research focus across the global landscape since 2009, followed by ‘dehydrogenation’ in the recent years. The dehydrogenation strategy resolves the storage problem by leveraging the well-established storage and transportation infrastructure of ammonia and methylcyclohexane. With processes in place to extract hydrogen from both ammonia and methylcyclohexane, such a system can offer cost effectiveness compared to handling pure hydrogen.
With hydrogen technology rapidly growing and poised to play a pivotal role in shifting the world towards renewable energy, it is critical for organizations across a number of impacted segments to monitor relevant research trends. To learn more about emerging opportunities in this space download our in-depth hydrogen fuels report.