Bosch is entering the market for mobile fuel cells and paving the way for the breakthrough of this technology in trucks and cars. One crucial component here is the stack. As the core of the fuel cell, it converts hydrogen into electrical energy. To further improve and manufacture these stacks, Bosch has now formed an alliance with Powercell Sweden AB, the Swedish manufacturer of fuel-cell stacks.
Under the agreement, the two partners will work jointly to make the polymer-electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell ready for production. Bosch will then manufacture this technology under license for the global automotive market. The stack will complement the Bosch portfolio of fuel-cell components, and 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,” says Stefan Hartung, member of the Bosch board of management and chairman of the Mobility Solutions business sector.
Over the long term, the mobile fuel-cell business is potentially worth billions of euros for Bosch. It estimates that as much as 20% of all electric vehicles worldwide will be powered by fuel cells by 2030.
“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,” says Per Wassén, the Powercell CEO.
Bosch believes the best opportunities for broad adoption of fuel-cell technology are in the commercial-vehicle market. The EU’s fleet requirements for trucks call for a reduction of CO2 emissions by 15% on average by 2025, and 30% by 2030. Bosch’s view is that this target can only be reached by electrifying more and more of the powertrain. The fuel cell can play a decisive role here. Once they have become established in trucks, Bosch fuel-cell powertrains will then increasingly find their way into passenger cars. But for this to happen, the cost of fuel-cell systems needs to be progressively reduced. The biggest cost item is the stack. It 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 also have to fall when it comes to hydrogen. Currently, this fuel is mainly produced for industrial applications, at a kilogram price that frequently exceeds five euros. As production grows, the price should fall. One kilogram of hydrogen contains as much energy as about three liters of diesel. For 100 kilometers, a modern 40-ton truck requires seven to eight kilograms of hydrogen.
It is uses green electricity, so the production of hydrogen can be climate-neutral. Various industrial enterprises are working to perfect this process. In addition, there is a small network of more than 60 hydrogen filling stations in Germany, and this number is set to rise. The hydrogen tank can be refilled with highly compressed gas in a matter of minutes. In 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 can be used either to recharge a battery in the vehicle or to directly power the electric motor. By flexibly combining two or more stacks, the power requirements of all kinds of vehicles can be covered, from passenger cars to heavy trucks.
With its 60 associates, Powercell is gradually moving from manual production of fuel cell stacks to ramp-up of a semi-automatic production. Powercell has developed cutting edge fuel cell technology and its stacks provide an output of up to 125 kilowatts. Headquartered in Göteborg, Sweden, the company was spun off from the Volvo Group in 2008. It already supplies fuel cells for use as prototypes in trucks and cars. Bosch also has a lot of expertise in fuel-cell technology. The supplier of technology and services sees itself as a systems supplier, and already has a broad portfolio of components for fuel cells in trucks and cars. These include an air compressor with power electronics and a control unit with sensors.
As well as PEM fuel cells, Bosch is already actively involved in solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFC). Since the middle of last year, Bosch has been working with the British specialist Ceres Power to further improve SOFC technology for applications such as distributed power supplies to factories and computing centers. The idea behind the technology is to have small power stations set up throughout cities, as well as in industrial areas. Because these standardized plants are highly flexible, they will be able to cover peak demand better than conventional plants. The aim is for one SOFC module to generate 10 kilowatts of electrical power. Where more electricity is needed, any number of modules with the same output can simply be interconnected.