China leads in patents for decarbonization technology and carbon capture

China is becoming more competitive in cutting-edge technologies to combat global warming. According to a survey by the Nikkei Shimbun, China ranks first in the world in the number of patents related to the capture and storage of carbon dioxide produced by factories and power plants, three times that of the second-ranked United States.

Japan ranks third. China is also gaining control of the world market in the field of pure electric vehicle (EV) batteries and photovoltaic panels. China’s presence in the decarbonization supply chain is growing.

Carbon dioxide capture is one of the key technologies to combat global warming. Carbon dioxide contained in factory exhaust and atmosphere can be captured and buried underground or used as a raw material for chemicals. Companies from various countries are competing to develop technology, and the global market size is expected to expand to US$15.24 billion in 2028, 6.5 times that of 2021.

The Nikkei Shimbun, with the assistance of Mitsui & Co. Strategic Research Institute, analyzed patents obtained in major countries from 2000 to February 2024. The analysis tools of LexisNexis, an intellectual property information service provider in the United States, were used.
The total number of patents owned by Chinese companies and research institutions reached 10,191, four times that of 2015. It accounts for nearly 50% of the world’s total. The quality of patents is also very high. Scoring factors such as the degree of attention from competitors, China ranks second only to the United States. Since the mid-2010s, China has also rapidly narrowed the gap with the United States in terms of quality.

Chinese companies and research institutions have strong technical strength in a wide range of fields such as separation of carbon dioxide and conversion to hydrocarbons, raw materials for chemicals. The Chinese Academy of Sciences and Sinopec Group also rank among the top in the world in the number of patents of companies and research institutions. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has advantages in the field of technology for converting carbon dioxide into fuels such as methane. In 2023, Sinopec launched a large-scale equipment that can store more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide underground in oil fields each year.

The number of patents in the United States is 3,574. Looking at each company and research institution, ExxonMobil, industrial gas giant Air Products, General Electric (GE), etc. have strong technology. ExxonMobil has advantages in carbon dioxide separation and storage technology, and is jointly developing a new generation of carbon dioxide capture technology with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Japan ranks third (2,977 items). Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has highly competitive technology in carbon dioxide separation and transportation. The company has independently developed carbon dioxide absorption liquid, which can build high-efficiency capture equipment. So far, 16 sets of commercial equipment have been built in power plants and factories. Toshiba also has carbon dioxide absorption technology for waste incineration facilities that require high durability.

The Group of Seven (G7) agreed to gradually phase out thermal power plants that do not take greenhouse gas emission reduction measures at the Climate, Energy and Environment Ministerial Meeting on April 30, stating that the abolition period will be “the first half of the 2030s” or “a timeline that can control the temperature rise since the pre-industrial revolution to within 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

However, coal-fired power plants that take adequate measures to capture and store carbon dioxide generated by power generation are not subject to abolition. In countries such as Japan, where the adoption of renewable energy is lagging behind, the improvement and popularization of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology is becoming increasingly important from the perspective of maintaining stable power supply.