Bosch, Powercell make fuel cell technology ready for mass production

Bosch, Powercell make fuel cell technology ready for mass production

Business news |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

From a technical point of view, the stack, which is the heart of a fuel cell and converts hydrogen into electrical energy, is the central component of a fuel cell drive. Bosch’s agreement stipulates that both partners will jointly develop the stack based on the polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEM) to production maturity and that Bosch will manufacture the technology for the global automotive market under license.

The stack complements Bosch‘s portfolio of fuel cell components and is expected to be launched on the market by 2022 at the latest.

Bosch sees the best opportunities for a broad application of fuel cell technology in the commercial vehicle market. The European Union’s fleet targets for trucks envisage an average reduction of 15 % in CO2 emissions by 2025 and 30 % by 2030. According to Bosch, this goal can only be achieved with increasing electrification of the drive system. The fuel cell plays a decisive role here. According to the company’s plans, in the future, fuel cell drives will also be increasingly used in passenger cars. To get there, the costs for fuel cell systems will have to be reduced. The largest item is the stack. This accounts for up to two thirds of the total costs of a fuel cell system. “Through industrialization and the spread of technology on the market, Bosch will achieve economies of scale and reduce costs,” says Stefan Hartung, Managing Director and Chairman of Bosch’s Mobility Solutions Division.

The costs of hydrogen will also have to fall. Currently, this energy carrier is mainly produced for industrial applications, often at a price of more than five euros per kilogram. As production increases, the price will tend to fall. One kilogram of hydrogen contains as much energy as 3.3 liters of diesel. For 100 kilometers, a 40-tonner truck needs about nine to ten kilograms of hydrogen.

Hydrogen can be produced climate-neutrally with renewable electricity. Various industrial companies are working on optimizing this process. There is also already an albeit small hydrogen filling station network in Germany with more than 60 stations, and the trend is rising. In contrast to the charging process in battery-electric vehicles, the energy stores in fuel cell cars can be refilled in just a few minutes: Hydrogen is used as a highly compressed gas and pressed into the vehicle’s tanks.

The hydrogen reacts with oxygen in the fuel cell, several of which are interconnected to form the stack. In addition to water as a remnant, this produces electrical energy. This can either be used to charge a battery in the vehicle, or it drives the electric motor directly. By flexibly combining two or more stacks, a service portfolio ranging from passenger cars to heavy trucks can be covered.

With its 60 employees, Powercell is increasingly automating the production of stacks with a capacity of up to 125 kilowatts. Founded in 2008 as a spin-off of the Volvo Group, the Göteborg-based company supplies fuel cells for prototype use in trucks and passenger cars. Bosch also has a great deal of expertise in fuel cell technology. The technology and service company sees itself as a systems provider and has already developed an extensive portfolio of components for fuel cells in trucks and passenger cars. These include the air compressor with power electronics and the control unit with sensors.

In addition to PEM fuel cells, Bosch is also active in solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs). Together with the British specialist Ceres Poweren, Bosch has been further developing SOFC technology since the middle of last year to supply power to factories and data centers, for example, on a decentralized basis. The technology is designed to enable small power plants to be located anywhere in the city and in industrial and commercial areas. The high flexibility of the standardized systems makes it easier to cover peak loads, among other things. In the future, a SOFC module will generate an electrical output of 10 kilowatts. For higher energy requirements, any number of modules with the same output can be easily networked.

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