October 15, 2013
By: David L. Chandler, MIT News Office
Innovation in renewable-energy technologies is booming
New study shows that research investments and growing markets have fueled a huge rise in new patents.
The number of patents issued for renewable-energy technologies has risen sharply over the last decade, according to new research from MIT and the Santa Fe Institute (SFI). The study shows that investments in research and development, as well as in the growth of markets for these products, have helped to spur this dramatic growth in innovation.
“We were quite surprised,” says Jessika Trancik, an assistant professor of engineering systems at MIT and a co-author of the new report, published in the journal PLoS ONE. Trancik — working with Luís Bettencourt of SFI and graduate student Jasleen Kaur from Indiana University — created 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 activity — who’s doing it, and where,” Trancik says. Further statistical analysis, she says, 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.