Bosch Partners on Volume Production of Hydrogen Fuel Cells for Trucks and Cars

April 30, 2019 by Scott McMahan

Bosch is joining the market for mobile fuel cells and intends to pave the way for the advances in hydrogen fuel cell technology for trucks and cars. The stack is a critical component of a hydrogen fuel cell, that converts hydrogen into electrical energy. (see image above).

To further improve and manufacturing of these stacks, Bosch has allied itself with a Swedish manufacturer of fuel-cell stacks, Powercell Sweden AB. Under the terms of the agreement, the two partners will collaborate to make the polymer-electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell ready for production.

Bosch will then produce this technology under license for the global automotive market. The resulting stack will complement Bosch's portfolio of fuel-cell components, and it is to be launched in 2022 at the latest.

"In the fuel-cell domain, Bosch already has a strong hand, and the alliance with Powercell makes it even stronger. Commercializing technology is one of our strengths. We are now going to take on this task with determination and develop this market," said Dr. Stefan Hartung, a member of the Bosch board of management and chairman of the company's Mobility Solutions business sector.

"Commercializing technology is one of our strengths. We are now going to take on this task with determination and develop this market, " said Dr. Hartung.

Bosch estimates that over the long term, the mobile fuel-cell business is potentially worth billions of euros. The company forecasts that by 2030 as much as 20 percent of all electric vehicles worldwide will be powered by fuel cells.

"With the combined weight of its clout and expertise, Bosch will provide our fuel-cell technology with the chance to gain a foothold in the automotive market. We couldn't imagine a better partner than Bosch for this," commented Per Wassén, the Powercell CEO.

Fuel-cell technology for trucks and cars

Bosch believes that the commercial-vehicle market holds the best opportunities for broad adoption of fuel-cell technology. The EU's fleet requirements for trucks call for a 15% reduction of CO2 emissions on average by 2025, and 30% by 2030. Bosch asserts that this target can only be achieved via the electrifying of more and more of the powertrain. Furthermore, the company says that the fuel cell can play a crucial role in this.

Once they have become established in trucks, Bosch says its fuel-cell powertrains will then increasingly be used in passenger cars.

However, for this widespread adoption to occur, the cost of fuel-cell systems needs to be reduced. The highest cost component in a fuel cell is the stack, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the total cost of a fuel-cell system.

"Through commercialization and widespread marketing of this technology, Bosch will achieve economies of scale and push down costs," Hartung says.

Costs for hydrogen also have to drop. Currently, hydrogen fuel is primarily produced for industrial applications, at a kilogram price that often exceeds five euros.

As production grows, the price should drop. One kilogram of hydrogen contains as much energy as approximately three liters of diesel. For example, Bosch notes that to drive 100 kilometers, a modern 40-ton truck needs about seven to eight kilograms of hydrogen.

Bosch points out that the company uses green electricity, and that the production of hydrogen can be climate-neutral. Various industrial enterprises are striving to perfect this process.

Additionally, more than 60 hydrogen filling stations have already begun operation in Germany, and this number is set to rise.

In just minutes, a hydrogen tank can be refilled with highly compressed gas. Within the fuel cell (or fuel-cell stack as an assembly of such cells is called) the hydrogen reacts with oxygen. The end result apart from water as a by-product is electrical energy. This electricity can either recharge a battery in the vehicle or directly power the electric motor.

With two or more stacks combined, the power requirements of types of vehicles can be covered, including regular passenger cars and even heavy trucks.

With 60 associates, Powercell is gradually shifting from manual production of fuel cell stacks to ramp-up for semi-automatic production. Powercell has developed cutting-edge fuel cell technology, and its stacks deliver an output of up to 125kW. Headquartered in Göteborg, Sweden, Powercell was spun off from the Volvo Group in 2008, and it already supplies fuel cells for prototype trucks and cars.

Bosch Supplies Hydrogen Fuel Cell Components

Bosch also has much expertise in fuel-cell technology and already has a broad portfolio of components for fuel cells in trucks and cars. These components include an air compressor with power electronics and a control unit with sensors.

Bosch hydrogen injector component for hydrogen fuel cell

Alliance for Stationary Fuel Cells

As well as PEM fuel cells, Bosch has been actively working with solid-oxide fuel cell (SOFC) specialist Ceres Power to further improve the technology for applications such as distributed power supplies to factories and computing centers.

The intended purpose of using SOFC technology is to have small power stations set up throughout cities, as well as in industrial areas. These standardized and highly flexible plants can cover peak demand better than conventional plants. The goal is for one SOFC module to generate 10kW of electrical power. Where more electricity is required, any number of modules can be interconnected.