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Rising trend in technology patents for renewable energy

Posted: 17 Oct 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:renewable energy? patents? database?

Research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) revealed that the number of patents issued for renewable-energy technologies has increased remarkably over the last decade. According to the study, the investments in research and development, as well as in the growth of markets for these products, have helped boost the trend in innovation.

"We were quite surprised," noted Jessika Trancik, an assistant professor of engineering systems at MIT and a co-author of the report. Trancikworking with Lus Bettencourt of SFI and graduate student Jasleen Kaur from Indiana Universitycreated a database of energy-related patents issued in more than 100 countries between 1970 and 2009, using keyword searches of the patents themselves, rather than the classifications assigned by patent offices. In all, the team examined more than 73,000 patents issued for energy-related technologies.

This database "gives you a view into innovation activitywho's doing it, and where," Trancik stated. Further statistical analysis, she said, showed a clear correlation between this rise in patents and prior investments in R&D, along with growth in the markets for such renewable technologies.

The increase was most dramatic in patents related to renewable energy, chiefly solar energy and wind. Patents in fossil-fuel technologies showed a more modest increase, while those in nuclear technology were flat.

For example, between 2004 and 2009, the number of patents issued annually for solar energy increased by 13 per cent per year, while those for wind energy increased 19 per cent per year, on average. These growth rates approach or exceed the rates for technologies such as semiconductors and digital communications. Overall, renewable-energy patents in the U.S. increased from fewer than 200 per year in the period from 1975 to 2000 to more than 1,000 annually by 2009. By comparison, there were about 300 fossil-fuel-related patents in 2009, up from about 100 a year in earlier decades. The fraction of all patents accounted for by energy is also increasing.

While there was a large increase in research funding in these fields following the oil shocks of the 1970s and 1980s, that was followed by a steep dropoff. But the effect of those investments is visible in the current patent boom, Trancik indicated. "Knowledge persists," she stated. "A lot of work was done in the '70s and '80s, a lot of effort was put in, and we're still benefitting from that."

Trancik added that the team saw the cumulative effect of investment in research, by both governments and industry, and the effect of growth in the market for renewable-energy systemswhich also benefitted from government subsidies, incentives and tax breaks.

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