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In today’s world, to make reference to an environmentally friendly lifestyle, the word ‘Green’ has become part of our everyday lexicon. We are surrounded by discussions about how to be more ecologically responsible and we are easily exposed to lists such as ‘the ‘greener’ countries in the world’.  However, researchers from INGENIO, a joint research centre of the Polytechnic University of Valencia and the National Research Council (CSIC) of Spain, have noticed that when it comes to the development of green technologies there is a lack of information.

With the initiative to solve this lack of information, the ‘Green Tech DB’ has been launched. The website is based on a cross-domain database and it aims to provide and visualise empirical evidence about the distribution and the evolution of green technologies. “We noticed a lack of systematic information about the development of green technologies over time and across domains of knowledge and across space. Some specific green technologies (in particular energy) have been studied but to the best of our knowledge no cross-domain dataset, and consequently no large-scale studies, are available. This website and the database behind it seeks to offer a comprehensive overview of the development of green technologies,” notes researcher François Perruchas. GreenTech DB is the direct result of Perruchas’ PhD research at INGENIO, with the collaboration of Nicolò Barbieri and Davide Consoli.

The tool not only helps visualise green tech developments by country but it also provides a methodology to measure the maturity of technologies along their life cycle. “We hope this information will contribute to the current debate about the transition toward sustainable economies, at least for what green technologies are concerned. The key issue about learning the life cycles is that of identifying and avoiding temporal mismatches – e.g. technologies may be not yet mature when needed (e.g. GHG sequestration), or one component of the “technological ecosystem” may be not mature (e.g. electric vehicles / enabling tech. in transport and in energy). These mismatches are very common in technology development, and represent substantial bottlenecks.”

To look at the methodology by which the life cycle of technologies is measured visit Green Tech DB.

“Patents have been used for a long time in the scientific literature as a proxy to estimate technology development.”

Patents and Green Tech development

Green Tech DB uses patents in order to provide a database that offers a comprehensive overview of the developments of Green Technologies worldwide.

Researches use the PATSTAT 2016a database as their patent source; which is produced by the European Patent Office (EPO). “The main advantage of using PATSTAT, a database produced by the European Patent Office, is to have information about patent applications that covers more than 80 different countries. As a patent is a legal object, information available in different patent databases is similar, what differs is the coverage across time and countries, and PATSTAT has one of the best coverage.”

There are some limitations to using patents for tracking green technology development. “One limitation which is common to all patent databases is the time needed to process and collect patent applications, which can be up to 6 years (that is why the last year available on the website is 2010).” Furthermore; “The usual criticism, that not all inventions are patented, the patent number depends on firms’ strategies and the composition of economic tissue (SMEs tend to patent less than big corporate groups), is valid. At the same time, we believe that no indicator taken in isolation can be useful, and it will always need to be validated and enriched by other indicators. We also think that long time series on patents, with detailed information on their domain and geographical distribution of inventive efforts, offer valuable insights into the development of technology.”

Once the patent information is accessed it is then assigned to a specific region by geocalising the inventors’ addresses, and to a specific ‘green’ domain (wind energy, renewable energy, et cetera). The results show how Asia leads the field of green tech developments with China and Japan showing the most growth in patents from 1971 to 2010. As a result of this, Japan and China are the greenest countries in the Green Tech DB visualisation tool.


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Invention vs. Use

While looking at the GreenTech DB visualisation tool it is important to keep in mind that the website provides a look to the invention of green technologies rather than the use of them. In addition, the environmental-friendly behaviour of the inhabitants of the country is also not taken into account. As a result, the greenest country in the GreenTech DB is not necessarily the greenest country is practice. “For example, very few patent applications have been invented by people located in Africa (which is almost grey in the map), but the ecological footprint of an African is still much smaller than that of a resident in North America”

Relevance and future

The importance of tracking the development of the technology that makes possible a more sustainable planet goes beyond mere access to the knowledge. “We aimed at a platform that is as friendly as possible to academics, policy makers, tech businesses and also the general public, even if each of these users might be driven by different interests. For academics, we hope it will alert their attention to the themes commented above, but also encourage collegiality. We would be glad to establish new collaborative ventures, in particular on further developments concerning skills distribution, regional capabilities, and policy domains. This tool can hopefully be useful also to tech businesses with an interest in understanding where and when technology development takes place, and to know the degree of maturity, and therefore of opportunity available, in each technological domain. Finally, we hope to contribute to the broader debate in the society about containing [greenhouse gas] emissions and environmental pollution through technology.”

Researches aim to keep working on the database and make it more detailed and updated to more recent years; always keeping in mind the necessary time that EPO needs for the data collection of patents. This, in particular, is something that INGENIO is very excited about “For INGENIO, it is important to support all initiatives that are aligned with its values and respond to its objective of generating relevant knowledge and research, in order to respond to the challenges facing society. We are pleased to know that the website will continue to be developed, to be scalable and that the next step will be focused on proposing more detailed geographical levels (European
regions for example) and on updating the data until more recent years, taking into account the time required for data collection by the European Patent Office. Therefore, the dimension of the contribution generated by “Green Tech DB” will become even more important than the one it has now,” commented Alejandra Boni, deputy director of INGENIO in Spain.