The power industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by increasing demand for higher density energy storage systems with longer life and a shift towards electric vehicles, and growing importance of technologies such as fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) and energy storage systems. In the last three years alone, there have been over 439,000 patents filed and granted in the power industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Environment Sustainability in Power: Solid electrolyte Fuel Cell membrane.

However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilising and reaching maturity.

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.

90+ innovations will shape the power industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the power industry using innovation intensity models built on over 83,000 patents, there are 90+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, smart lighting system, PCM thermal energy storage, and solid electrolyte fuel cell membranes are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Ceramic oxide nuclear fuel, geothermal heat pumps, and hybrid PV plants are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are combined-cycle gas turbines and ethylene co-polymer PV modules, which are now well established in the industry. 

Innovation S-curve for environmental sustainability in the power industry

Solid electrolyte fuel cell membranes is a key innovation area in environmental sustainability

Solid electrolyte fuel cells are electromechanical devices that convert chemical energy into electricity from hydrogen enriched fuels using solid state electrolytes to conduct negative oxygen ions from cathode to anode.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 20+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established power companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of solid electrolyte fuel cell membranes.

Key players in solid electrolyte fuel cell membranes – a disruptive innovation in the power industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of different applications identified for each relevant patent and broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of different countries each relevant patent is registered in and reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.

Patent volumes related to solid electrolyte fuel cell membranes

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
AGC 45 Unlock company profile
NGKrk Plug 45 Unlock company profile
Sumitomo Electric Industries 34 Unlock company profile
Osaka Gas 27 Unlock company profile
Teijin 25 Unlock company profile
Johnson Matthey 24 Unlock company profile
Fujifilm Holdings 18 Unlock company profile
CEA 16 Unlock company profile
Toray Industries 15 Unlock company profile
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique 14 Unlock company profile
International Business Machines 13 Unlock company profile
Kyocera 12 Unlock company profile
Haldor Topsoe Holding 12 Unlock company profile
Dioxide Materials 11 Unlock company profile
Panasonic 11 Unlock company profile
Asahi Kasei 9 Unlock company profile
JSR 9 Unlock company profile
ITM Power 9 Unlock company profile
Electricite de France 9 Unlock company profile
W. L. Gore & Associates 7 Unlock company profile
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries 6 Unlock company profile
Mitsubishi 6 Unlock company profile
Compagnie de Saint-Gobain 6 Unlock company profile
3M 5 Unlock company profile
Korea Electric Power 5 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Johnson Matthey is one of the leading patent filers in fuel cell and sustainable technologies. The company is building a gigafactory at its existing site in Royston, UK, to accelerate the manufacture of hydrogen fuel cell components. Johnson Matthey and Shanghai REFIRE Technology partnered to produce fuel cell systems to power up to 280 heavy-duty FCEVs in China.

AGC, formerly known as Asahi Glass, is a Japanese global glass manufacturing company. Recently in May 2022, the company was awarded Industrial Contribution Award of the FCDIC Honoring System for FY 2021 by the Fuel Cell Development Information Center for its innovative development FORBLUETM i-series electrolyte polymer dispersion for electrodes and electrolyte membranes in automotive fuel cells.

NGK Spark Plug has developed next-generation Solid Oxide Fuel Cell with fully implemented ceramic technologies for large-scale deployment in residential application. It also expands the use of newly developed planar solid oxide fuel cell stacks in commercial and industrial applications. NGK Spark Plug, in partnership with Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, established a joint venture named Cecylls to manufacture and sell cylindrical cell stacks as the power generating elements used in solid oxide fuel cells.

Other key patent filers in the fuel cell and electrochemical industry include Sumitomo Electric Industries, and Osaka Gas.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the power industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Power.


GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.