The power industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by the growing demand for renewable energy and shift towards electric vehicles, and the 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: Zirconia based fuel cells.

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 membrane 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

Zirconia-based fuel cells is a key innovation area in environmental sustainability

The synthesis of a zirconia-held carbon supported Pt electrocatalyst increases the fuel cell performance in polymer electrolyte fuel cells. The pure tetragonal phase of the zirconia–carbon composite is synthesised using a low temperature method.

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 zirconia-based fuel cells.

Key players in zirconia-based fuel cells – 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 zirconia-based fuel cells

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
NGK Insulators Ltd 37 Unlock company profile
Murata Manufacturing Co Ltd 26 Unlock company profile
CEA 24 Unlock company profile
Ceres Enterprises Ltd 22 Unlock company profile
Haldor Topsoe Holding A/S 21 Unlock company profile
Compagnie de Saint-Gobain 13 Unlock company profile
Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd 12 Unlock company profile
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Forderung der Angewandten Forschung eV 10 Unlock company profile
Plansee Holding AG 10 Unlock company profile
NGK Spark Plug Co Ltd 9 Unlock company profile
Noritake Co Ltd 9 Unlock company profile
Carl Zeiss Stiftung AG 9 Unlock company profile
FuelCell Energy Inc 9 Unlock company profile
Toto Ltd 8 Unlock company profile
NHK Spring Co Ltd 8 Unlock company profile
Korea Electric Power Corp 8 Unlock company profile
Corning Inc 7 Unlock company profile
Mitsui Mining & Smelting Co Ltd 6 Unlock company profile
Kyocera Corp 6 Unlock company profile
Forschungszentrum Julich GmbH 6 Unlock company profile
Linde plc 6 Unlock company profile
Marelli Holdings Co Ltd 5 Unlock company profile
Panasonic Corp 5 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Ceres Enterprises is one of the leading patent filers in fuel cell and electrochemical technology. Ceres’ SOFC technology offers a highly differentiated and fuel flexible solution which can reduce carbon emissions by up to 47% on conventional fuels and provide a pathway to zero carbon. Some other key patent filers in the fuel cell and electrochemical industry include Haldor Topsoe, CEA, Ceres Enterprises, FuelCell Energy and Korea Electric Power.

The wide range of temperature and oxygen pressures permits high oxide ion conductivity in stabilised zirconia which has resulted in its use as a solid oxide electrolyte in a variety of electrochemical applications. These include solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) which are emerging as energy conversion devices for large-scale electrical power generation to electrochemically generate electricity at high efficiencies.

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.