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: Fuel cells for aircrafts. Buy the report here.

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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 control, and fuel cells for aircraft are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Battery management systems, 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

Fuel cells for aircraft is a key innovation area in environmental sustainability 

An airplane that uses hydrogen as its main energy source is called a fuel cell airplane. Jet engines and other types of internal combustion engines can burn hydrogen or supply it to fuel cells to generate electricity for their propellers. 

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 30+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established aerospace and defence companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of fuel cells for aircraft. 

Key players in fuel cells for aircraft – 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 fuel cells for aircraft

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Airbus 296 Unlock Company Profile
Safran 117 Unlock Company Profile
ThyssenKrupp 51 Unlock Company Profile
Raytheon Technologies 43 Unlock Company Profile
CEA 42 Unlock Company Profile
Boeing 36 Unlock Company Profile
Hyundai Motor Group 35 Unlock Company Profile
Diehl Stiftung 32 Unlock Company Profile
General Electric 29 Unlock Company Profile
Siemens 29 Unlock Company Profile
Doosan 28 Unlock Company Profile
Honeywell International 23 Unlock Company Profile
Meditor European Master Fund 22 Unlock Company Profile
Korea Development Bank 21 Unlock Company Profile
Toyota Motor 19 Unlock Company Profile
Naval Group 17 Unlock Company Profile
Liebherr-International 16 Unlock Company Profile
Textron 15 Unlock Company Profile
Compagnie Generale des Etablissements Michelin 13 Unlock Company Profile
BAE Systems 11 Unlock Company Profile
Rolls-Royce Holdings 11 Unlock Company Profile
ArianeGroup 11 Unlock Company Profile
EADS Deutschland 11 Unlock Company Profile
Alakai Technologies 10 Unlock Company Profile
SZ DJI Technology 9 Unlock Company Profile
Zodiac Seats France 9 Unlock Company Profile
Linde 8 Unlock Company Profile
NACCO Materials Handling Group 8 Unlock Company Profile
Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt 7 Unlock Company Profile
Kia 7 Unlock Company Profile
Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft 7 Unlock Company Profile
Nileworks 6 Unlock Company Profile
Lynntech 6 Unlock Company Profile
Spawnt Private 6 Unlock Company Profile
AeroVironment 5 Unlock Company Profile
Porsche Automobil Holding 5 Unlock Company Profile
General Motors 5 Unlock Company Profile
UAV Factory 5 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Airbus is one of the leading patent filers in fuel cells for aircraft. The company is a leader in the development of hydrogen powered aircraft, in which fuel cells are an essential component. It is aiming to introduce hydrogen aircraft in 2035 under its ZEROe programme. Other key patent filers include Safran, Raytheon Technologies, Boeing, and Diehl Stiftung. 

In terms of application diversity, Boeing leads the pack. EADS Deutschland and Airbus stood in the second and third positions respectively. By means of geographic reach, Naval Group held the top position followed by Diehl and Safran. 

Fuel cells for aircraft are an enabling technology for hydrogen aircraft, which themselves have the potential to transform the environmental performance of the aviation industry.  

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

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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.