China surpasses U.S. and Germany to become hydrogen technology’s “Top Dog”

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Recently, the Japanese company Astamuse compiled a list of nations evaluated according to the competitiveness of their hydrogen technologies between 2011 and 2020.

The research was based on data such as patent expiry dates, the number of times their patents were cited in applications with a comparable structure, and other statistics. According to the paper, the 2020 projections were based on preliminary data.

Japan topped the list due to its dominance in fuel-cell patents, which are vital for hydrogen-powered companies, residences, and vehicles. Nevertheless, considering China’s rapid progress in this field, it is doubtful if Japan will be able to preserve its position of preeminence.

Between 2011 and 2020, Japanese firms and academic institutions reportedly submitted 34,624 patent applications for hydrogen-related inventions. Even though this number was the highest of any nation, it declined by over 30 percent between 2001 and 2010.

With 21,235 patents, China has eclipsed the United States, South Korea, and Germany to claim second position. This was an approximately tenfold growth between 2001 and 2010, when it was placed sixth.

Beijing pushed for an increase in Chinese patent applications as part of its five-year plan that began in 2011, and local governments paid incentives to assist the campaign.

In addition, China surpassed Japan in four of the five areas of hydrogen-related technologies evaluated by Astamuse: manufacture, storage, safety measures, and transportation.

Despite Japan’s continued leadership in the demonstration of cutting-edge technology, Chinese research institutes are active patent filers in a variety of sectors.

Since the middle of the 2010s, Chinese patent applications have surged considerably, according to Daisuke Ito of Astamuse. There is a significant likelihood that it may ultimately surpass Japan in all disciplines linked to hydrogen.

The Dominance Of Japan In The Field

Japan intends to convert a substantial amount of its energy demands to hydrogen-based energy. The industrial titans of Tokyo are constructing ships, gas ports, and other infrastructure to make hydrogen a significant part of everyday life.

In 2014, Toyota Motor became the first carmaker in the world to market the fuel-cell vehicle technology it had spent three decades researching. By 2020, its travel distance has grown by around 30 percent.

JERA Co., the largest power production firm in Japan, plans to reduce carbon emissions by adding ammonia to its coal-fired units. JERA Co. signed an MOU with one of the world’s leading ammonia manufacturers, Yara, in May 2021.

Since Japan lacks the requisite domestic resources to create hydrogen, the technology to transport hydrogen has also attracted considerable attention. The world’s first liquid hydrogen carrier, the Suiso Frontier, was constructed by Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries (Kawasaki).

J-Power, formerly known as Electric Power Development, is creating alongside Iwatani and Kawasaki Heavy Industries an international hydrogen supply network. Australia is testing the production of hydrogen from brown coal using the ship.

The ship, with the blue and black initials “LH2,” departed Japan in December 2021 and landed in Australia in January 2022.

The ship was loaded with coal-produced liquefied hydrogen in Victoria, Australia, and returned to Japan in February 2022, emptying the cargo into a land-based storage tank.

According to Astamuse, eight of the top twenty most competitive companies and organizations for hydrogen technology are headquartered in Japan.

Toyota took the top place. Honda Motor, Nissan Motor, NGK Insulators, Panasonic, and Kyocera were also included on the list because they own patents on patentable components and materials.

China’s Efforts To Advance Hydrogen-Related Technologies

China issued its first-ever long-term strategy for hydrogen on March 23, covering the years 2021 through 2035. The plan included a step-by-step approach for constructing a domestic hydrogen industry, mastering technology, and establishing industrial capacities.

The long-term plan is based on the aspirations and objectives for hydrogen included in recent publications, such as the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021–2025). This defines hydrogen as a “frontier” sector and one of six industries requiring concentrated development.

The Chinese government anticipates that by 2025, it will have 50,000 hydrogen-powered vehicles and create 100,000 to 200,000 tons of renewable hydrogen yearly.

It wants to establish a hydrogen ecosystem spanning many businesses by 2035. The emphasis reflects the nation’s intention to fill the present low-carbon hydrogen manufacturing process’s knowledge, experience, and infrastructural shortages.

China is increasing its production and use of hydrogen with low emissions in order to fulfill energy demands and decarbonize its economy. China’s industrial sector, particularly the energy-intensive cement and steel industries, is a major contributor to the country’s emissions.

To get pure iron from iron ore, oxygen must be eliminated. Historically, this has been performed with coal or natural gas, both of which release a considerable quantity of carbon dioxide. However, hydrogen may be substituted for fossil fuels in the manufacturing of steel.

The domestic green steel advantages for China are twofold. In addition to reducing total emissions, it would reduce China’s reliance on imports of iron ore and coking coal from nations such as Australia.

Nedim Husomanovic

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