Patents indicate ‘significant advances’ in desalination, says report

Significant advances are being made in decreasing the cost of desalination and increasing its energy efficiency, says a report on the patent landscape of desalination technologies just published by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

The report’s authors, from CambridgeIP, focused their study in particular on desalination with renewable energy.

The ‘significant advances’, says the report, have come through novel desalination technologies, improvements in components design, and ‘last but not least’, through advances in the integration of desalination with renewable energy sources. Continued development and deployment of desalination technologies powered by renewable energy sources could provide a more affordable source of fresh water for both developed and developing countries currently under threat of water shortages.

Information based on patent landscaping can be a highly reliable information source to support decision-making in both the public and private sector.

“We trust that the patent datasets and analyses developed in this report can support policy-makers and private-sector participants alike in better understanding hotspots of development, identifying key suppliers and partners for further technology development, and improved formulation of patenting strategy,” says the WIPO report, Patent Landscape Report on Desalination Technologies and the Use of Alternative Energies for Desalination (dated November 2011).

CambridgeIP’s research found that from a total of 4551 patent families around desalination technologies, more than 20% refer to integration with a renewable energy source. Thermal energy integration with desalination has seen the most patenting activity, accounting for more than 80% of the patent families relating to renewable energy integration with desalination.

“We believe we are seeing a high level of innovation in the integration of thermal energy with desalination because of the multitude of available thermal energy sources – such as industrial waste heat, solar heat and geothermal energy. This provides innovators with more industrial applications and therefore more routes to market,” said Helena van der Vegt from CambridgeIP.

The report also found that the desalination technology competitive landscape is changing. Looking at the number of patent families, the report found that the patenting position of Japanese conglomerates – who historically led innovation in this technology space – had dropped in the last 5 years.

“By contrast, companies like GE and Siemens have been very actively patenting in the last 5 years,” says the report. “In terms of countries, the major ‘new’ patenting locations in desalination are South Korea and China.”

“We were surprised to find that Africa and the Middle East have not seen a very high number of desalination patents, even though they are some of the key potential markets for this technology,” the authors added.