The two companies will work jointly to make a polymer-electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell stack ready for production. Bosch will then manufacture this technology under license for the global automotive market alongside other fuel cell components, The stack, which converts hydrogen to electricity and is the most expensive part of the powertrain, is set 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 Dr. Stefan Hartung, member of the Bosch board of management and chairman of the Mobility Solutions business sector. Bosch believes up to 20 percent 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 starting point for fuel cell technolgies is in electric trucks, as across the EU these have to show a reduction of CO2 emissions by 15 percent on average by 2025, and 30 percent by 2030. One established in trucks, the fuel cell powertrains will then increasingly find their way into passenger cars.
The stack 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,” said Hartung. 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.
Next: Fuel cell hydrogen costs
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.
Availability of hydrogen is also an issue. 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.
The stacks developed by Volvo-spin out Powercell provide an output of up to 125kW and the company is gradually moving from manual production of fuel cell stacks to ramp-up of a semi-automatic production. It already supplies fuel cells for use as prototypes in trucks and cars.
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 Ceres Power in the UK 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.