The aerospace and defence industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by the need to lower operational costs, larger consumer trends, and electrification, and growing importance of technologies such as hydrogen and electric aircraft and advanced materials. In the last three years alone, there have been over 174,000 patents filed and granted in the aerospace and defence industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Environment Sustainability in Aerospace, Defence & Security: Aircraft fuel cell APUs.

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. 

180+ innovations will shape the aerospace and defence industry 

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the aerospace and defence industry using innovation intensity models built on over 262,000 patents, there are 180+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry. 

Within the emerging innovation stage, hydrogen fuel cells, aircraft powertrain controls, and fuel cells for aircraft are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. EV charging stations, hybrid propulsion aircraft engines, and electric aircraft charging interfaces are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are fuselage frame modelling and powered wheels for aircraft landing, which are now well established in the industry. 

Innovation S-curve for environmental sustainability in the aerospace and defence industry 

Auxiliary Power Units (APUs) are systems which allow support systems on aircraft, such as air conditioning, communications, and other electronic systems to function. They are power systems, which are separate from the means of propulsion. 

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 aerospace and defence companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of aircraft fuel cell APUs. 

Key players in aircraft fuel cell APUs – a disruptive innovation in the aerospace and defence 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 aircraft fuel cell APUs

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Airbus 397 Unlock company profile
Safran 177 Unlock company profile
Diehl Stiftung 49 Unlock company profile
Boeing 42 Unlock company profile
Raytheon Technologies 35 Unlock company profile
Alakai Technologies 32 Unlock company profile
General Electric 29 Unlock company profile
Liebherr-International 24 Unlock company profile
Doosan 23 Unlock company profile
BAE Systems 22 Unlock company profile
Meditor European Master Fund 21 Unlock company profile
Honeywell International 18 Unlock company profile
Rolls-Royce Holdings 17 Unlock company profile
EADS Deutschland 15 Unlock company profile
Textron 14 Unlock company profile
Siemens 12 Unlock company profile
ArianeGroup 11 Unlock company profile
AeroVironment 11 Unlock company profile
Groupe Industriel Marcel Dassault 10 Unlock company profile
Zodiac Seats France 9 Unlock company profile
Linde 8 Unlock company profile
NACCO Materials Handling Group 8 Unlock company profile
Melrose Industries 7 Unlock company profile
H3 Dynamics Holdings 7 Unlock company profile
Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt 7 Unlock company profile
Hyundai Motor Group 6 Unlock company profile
Spawnt Private 6 Unlock company profile
UAV Factory 5 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Among aerospace and defence companies, Airbus is one of the leading patent filers in aircraft fuel cells APUs. The company is heavily invested in zero-emissions aircraft development through its ZEROe programme, which is targeting a 2035 rollout for commercial aircraft that utilise hydrogen propulsion. Fuel cells are an essential component of hydrogen propulsion, and fuel cell APUs are integral to fuel cells for aircraft propulsion. Other key patent filers include Safran and Diehl Stiftung. 

In terms of application diversity, Boeing leads the pack. Groupe Industriel Marcel Dassault and EADS Deutschland stood in second and third spots, respectively. By geographical reach, Diehl Stiftung held the top position, followed by EADS Deutschland and Groupe Industriel Marcel Dassault. 

Fuel cell-based propulsion is a promising technological avenue to reduce the emissions produced by commercial aircraft, and therefore improve the sustainability performance of the industry. In light of this, fuel cell components such as fuel cells APUs are essential developments. 

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the aerospace and defence industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Defence


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.