The Bosch Group reports it has begun volume production of fuel-cell power modules at its facility in Stuttgart-Feuerbach, Germany. The company stated that Nikola Corporation, based in the US, will serve as the pilot customer with its Class 8 hydrogen fuel cell electric truck, which is scheduled to enter the North American market in the Q3 2023.
“Here in Stuttgart-Feuerbach, in the plant whose history goes back further than any other Bosch plant, the hydrogen future is about to happen,” said Dr Stefan Hartung, the chairman of the board of management of Robert Bosch GmbH, at the Bosch Tech Day 2023. “Bosch knows its way around hydrogen, and Bosch is growing with hydrogen.”
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The company operates along the entire hydrogen value chain, developing technology for its production and application. By 2030, Bosch plans to generate sales of roughly €5 billion with hydrogen technology.
Bosch is also reportedly relying on a global manufacturing network and the experience of its German locations for its solutions in the hydrogen economy. For example, the Bosch plant in Bamberg, Germany, is intended to supply the Feuerbach factory with the fuel-cell stack, whereas important system components such as the electric air compressor and the recirculation blower come from the Bosch plant in Homburg, Germany.
“Bosch is one of the very few companies that are capable of mass producing technology as complex as fuel-cell stacks. We don’t just have the required systems expertise, but also the capability of quickly scaling up new developments to mass production,” shared Markus Heyn, member of the Bosch board of management and chairman of Bosch Mobility.
Production of the fuel-cell power module is also starting in Chongqing, China, and the components it requires will come from the Wuxi plant. “Bosch is the first company to produce these systems in both China and Germany,” Dr Hartung added.
Additionally, Bosch is planning to manufacture stacks for mobile applications in its US plant in Anderson, South Carolina. Worldwide, the company expects that, by 2030, one in five new trucks weighing six tons or more will feature a fuel-cell powertrain.
Bosch claims that hydrogen is the only route to a climate-neutral world and, therefore, advocates for the establishment of a hydrogen economy, and is increasing its investments in hydrogen. Between 2021 and 2026, Bosch will have reportedly invested a total of nearly €2.5 billion in the development and manufacturing of its hydrogen technologies, €1 billion more than was earmarked in the investment plan for 2021 to 2024.
Bosch believes that the business opportunities, and impact on jobs, are substantial. There are currently over 3,000 people at Bosch working on hydrogen technologies, more than half of them in Europe. Most vacancies can reportedly be filled from within the company, and especially with people who have so far worked in the Bosch powertrain business. However, the further prospects for the hydrogen business depend on the political environment.
Dr Hartung stated that Europe must do much more to create counterweight to the rapid pace of developments in other regions of the world, such as the US, he shared four demands of German and European policymakers, “First, we have to step up the pace of hydrogen production in the EU. Second, global supply chains have to be set up, and third, hydrogen has to be used in all sectors of the economy.” As a fourth point, he stressed the importance of quickly setting up infrastructure for distributing hydrogen in Europe.
Bosch technology starts with electrolysis and ends with the hydrogen engine
At the start of 2023, Bosch started constructing prototypes for electrolysis using proton exchange membranes – in other words, the reverse of the energy conversion method used in mobile fuel cells. Starting in the autumn, the company intends to make 1.25 megawatt prototypes available for pilot applications and is on track to start volume production in 2025.
Bosch is exploring several options for the use of hydrogen. Stationary solid-oxide fuel cells can be used for the distributed supply of power and heat. In a pilot project at the hospital in Erkelenz, near Cologne, Germany, Bosch hopes to use this technology to achieve overall efficiency of 90%. The micropower plant there will initially run on natural gas but can be converted to green hydrogen.
Apart from the fuel-cell powertrain, Bosch is also reportedly working on the hydrogen engine, developing systems for both port and direct injection of hydrogen. This solution is particularly suitable for heavy vehicles on long hauls with especially heavy loads. “A hydrogen engine can do everything a diesel engine does, but on top of that, it is carbon neutral. It also allows a fast and cost-effective entry into hydrogen-based mobility,” added Heyn.
One major advantage is that more than 90% of the development and manufacturing technologies needed for the hydrogen engine already exist. The hydrogen engine is expected to be launched starting in 2024 and, currently, Bosch has four orders for production projects from all the major economic regions and expects six-figure unit volumes by 2030.