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Innovating for a greener future: Technological trends to mitigate climate change

By: Fátima Mateos

November 4, 2022

On the path to a “greener” future, that is sustainable and environmentally friendly, innovation is part of the solution and extraordinary leverage to provide the necessary impetus to new technologies that help in mitigating climate change.

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change, in its 10th article, highlights the need to promote innovation: “Accelerating, encouraging and enabling innovation is critical for an effective, long-term global response to climate change and promoting economic growth and sustainable development”.

However, according to the analysis carried out by the European Patent Office and IEA (Patents and the Energy Transition: Global Trends in clean energy technology innovation), the technology necessary to reach a 35% decrease in CO2 emissions (to reach “zero emissions” objective by 2070) are currently in a prototype or demonstration phase. Therefore, in order to ensure that current technologies at an initial phase dominate their sectors by mid-century, we would need faster and more agile innovation cycles.

In this sense, both IP systems that promote innovation, through transfer and dissemination activities, as well as IP rights, that encourage new developments, are tools that may contribute to the acceleration in the development of environmentally friendly technologies (called green technologies) that help achieve the desired sustainability objectives.

Some patent offices understand the importance of this and have already implemented programs for expedited treatment of patent applications related to green technology, as well as a wide range of policies to expedite the ecological transition.

On the other hand, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) launched in March 2013 “WIPO GREEN”, which is a platform whose purpose is catalyzing and accelerating innovation and transfer to green technologies (in all aspects). The main objective of this platform is to expand the adoption and use of said technologies to facilitate the transition towards a future with a decreased carbon emission level.

All these initiatives intend on contributing to this acceleration need for processing green technologies and their arrival in the market, whose perspectives regarding growth in the market of said technologies is estimated at an annual 6.9% until 5 billion euros are reached by 2025, according to the data reflected in the “Strategic Plan 2019-2023” of WIPO GREEN.

The main market sector is that related to energy (generation, storage, efficiency, among others), of which there are already some studies published on patents like the one carried out by the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office (OEPM) “Technologies to Mitigate Climate Change 2006-2020” or the one made by ClarkeModet on technological and business solutions for an efficient future in carbon: “Carbon to Value”.

The second market sector is related to new materials and the reuse of waste. In this sector, there is a great interest in the revaluation of waste originated by different industries to apply it in formulating new materials. In this sense, bioplastics derived from natural resources are presented as sustainable and competitive materials that contribute to reducing environmental impact, in addition to promoting the circular economy.

In addition, according to the European Bioplastics Association, bioplastic es a generic term that describes both plastics of renewable origin, i.e., bio-based, as well as those that have the property of being biodegradable (including those derived from petroleum). Therefore, there is an even broader universe in the research of these biodegradable plastics that helps mitigate climate change.

From the analysis made in a private patent database, with a search strategy based on keywords and patent classification codes related to bioplastics, some relevant information was recovered.

The first patents related to these bioplastics date back to the end of 1980 and have still been a growing trend since then, where 42% of patent applications have taken place in the last 10 years.

80% of patents are related to bioplastics that incorporate in their composition compounds derived from natural resources, such as starches, derived from cellulose, among others. More specifically, a large number of innovations that included polylactic acid in their composition, which is the polymer obtained from corn starch, yucca starch or cassava starch, or from sugar cane, were detected. This compound has great properties for it to be used in containers, in addition to the advantage of being friendly to the environment due to its origin and biodegradable properties.

Among its main applications are packaging/containers (40% of patients), followed by health products (19%), and cosmetics and detergents (12%). The main application sector is consistent with demand data in Europe in 2020 (according to PlasticsEurope) which places packaging/containers as the main products.

Regarding the main regions of patent applications, the United States and Europe are in the lead which accounts for almost 40% of innovations. In Europe, Germany, Spain, and Austria are in the lead.

Finally, the main patent applicants in this area are two international companies of Japanese origin related to chemical products and materials, Unitika Corp. and Toray Inc., and two European companies, the multinational company of chemical products of German origin, BASF, and the Italian company Novamont Spa, which develops new materials of natural origin.

Ultimately, the results obtained from the analysis of patent trends are consistent with market data. Therefore, an alignment of objectives of new green technologies which help mitigate climate change may be observed, and it is expected for it to have a positive impact on the acceleration of innovation.

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