Large Consumer Electronics Players are Leading Battery Storage Innovations Globally
Players like Samsung and Panasonic exhibited a strong specialization in lithium technologies compared with other chemistries
Asian consumer electronics players and carmakers are driving research and development in the battery and energy storage arena, according to a joint study by the European Patent Office (EPO) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The top five patent applicants for battery and energy storage between 2000 and 2018 were Samsung, Panasonic, LG, Toyota, and Bosch, according to the study. They generated over a quarter of all patent applications.
Developing better and cheaper electricity storage is a challenge for the future. Simultaneously, the world requires 10,000 GWh of batteries and other forms of energy storage by 2040 to meet climate and sustainable energy goals. It is close to 50 times the size of the current market, the study predicts.
Batteries also accounted for nearly 90% of all patenting activity in electricity storage. Advances in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for consumer electronic devices and electric cars drove innovation in the sector.
Asian companies accounted for nine of the top ten global applicants behind international patent families (IPFs) related to batteries, and two-thirds of the top 25. Other applicants in the list were four German companies — Bosch, Daimler AG, BASF, and Volkswagen, two U.S. companies — Ford and General Motors, the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), and Ireland-based Johnson Controls. IPFs refers to the whole set of patents covering the same invention in one or more countries.
Samsung led the cell-level innovation, accounting for 9.1% of all applications. It filed 8.7% of all IPFs in cell manufacturing and 11.9% in cell engineering.
“The consumer electronics major was very active in battery integration (8.7%) and exhibited a strong specialization in lithium technologies compared with other chemistries,” EPO said in the study.
LG Electronics focused on Li-ion chemistry, with a relative specialization in the manufacturing of cells (7.4%) and its integration into equipment such as battery packs (7.2%).
Panasonic had a more diverse and balanced portfolio with relatively strong positions in both Li-ion and other chemistries — 7.1% in both cases.
Bosch’s strengths were not in developments at the cell level, but, thermal management and integration-related technologies (battery packs). Toyota held similar positions in these fields along with cell manufacturing.
The dire necessity to improve battery storage capacities have fuelled a flurry of research and a 14% rise in patent applications between 2005 and 2018 – four times higher than the average for all technologies, the study indicated. Since 2005, businesses have filed more than 65,000 patent applications in electricity storage. The annual number of IPFs rose steeply, from around 1,500 in 2005 to over 7,000 in 2018.
Lithium-ion – Leading battery technology
The report finds that lithium-ion (Li-ion) technology, dominant in portable electronics and electric vehicles, fuelled most battery innovations since 2005. In 2018, advances in Li-ion cells were responsible for 45% of patenting activity related to battery cells, compared to 7% for cells based on other chemistries.
Inventive competition has mostly been focused on Li-ion battery cathodes, as they are the limiting factor in determining energy density and cost reductions.
According to the study on patents, battery prices dropped by nearly 90% since 2010 for Lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and around two-thirds over the same period for stationary applications, including electricity grid management.
Between 2000 and 2018, inventions in the battery segment accounted for nine out of ten electricity storage patents, far outweighing electrical (9%), thermal (5%), and mechanical (3%) electricity storage solutions.
Countries leading the race
Asia has been leading in lithium-ion battery manufacturing. Of the top ten global applicants behind IPFs related to batteries, nine are based in Asia. Japan and the Republic of Korea are leading the global battery technology race.
China is likely to retain its recently acquired number one position over the next five years. The U.S. and Sweden may emerge third and fourth by 2025, respectively, according to a recent forecast by Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s (BNEF) ‘Global Lithium-Ion Battery Supply Chain Ranking.’
In Europe, innovation in electricity storage is dominated by Germany, which alone accounts for more than half of IPFs originating from Europe. Over the period 2000-18, U.K. companies and inventors filed a total of 652 IPFs in battery technology, putting the U.K. in third place among European countries, after Germany (with 5,080 IPFs) and France (1,354).
Smaller companies in the U.S. and Europe, universities, and public research organizations also played a significant role. For the U.S., small and medium enterprises accounted for 34.4%. Universities and research organizations filed 13.8% of IPFs.
The report highlights two rapidly emerging energy storage technologies, which, if successful, have the potential to address several weaknesses inherent to li-ion batteries and other alternatives.
Redox flow batteries may provide a safer, more durable, and scalable alternative to li-ion batteries for some applications. Also, supercapacitors can complement li-ion batteries by addressing specific needs such as fast-charging and discharging.
The top five patent applicants in redox flow batteries during 2000-2018 include Sumitomo Electric Industries, Lockheed Martin, United Technology, Acal Energy, and LG Electronics.
Panasonic, Samsung, Toyota, Semiconductor Energy Laboratory, and TDK topped the list of patent applicants for supercapacitors.
Notably, battery energy storage companies received $536 million in VC funding in 1H of 2020, and Lithium-ion technology has received most of the funding to date.
Debjoy Sengupta is a Senior Assistant Editor at Mercom. Debjoy brings more than two decades of experience in frontline journalism, spending most of his career working for dailies like Business Standard and The Economic Times. He has reported on a vast array of sectors, including power and renewables. A graduate in business economics, Debjoy is an amateur 3D digital artist and a photographer. More articles from Debjoy Sengupta.