Bosch expands into the hydrogen power business
Bosch is branching out from its fuel cell power business into the development of components for electrolyzers to generate hydrogen.
“We cannot afford to delay climate action any longer, so we aim to use Bosch technology to support the rapid expansion of hydrogen production in Europe,” said Dr. Stefan Hartung, chairman of the board of management of Robert Bosch. “To do this, we will leverage our know-how in fuel-cell technology,” said Dr. Markus Heyn, member of the board of management of Bosch and chairman of the Mobility Solutions business sector.
The development of electrolyzer components in the Mobility Solutions business sector will see and investment of up to €500m over the next eight years. It plans to start volume production as quickly as possible at a number of European locations. These include Bamberg and Feuerbach (Germany), Tilburg (Netherlands), Linz (Austria), and České Budějovice (Czechia).
This is part of a €3bn investment in climate-neutral technology, such as electrification and hydrogen, over the next three years.
Bosch forecasts that the global market for electrolyzer components will increase to a volume of around 14 billion euros by then.
As in the fuel cell, the key component of an electrolyzer is a stack, which comprises several hundred individual cells connected in series. In each of these cells, electricity is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. This is the reverse of what takes place in a fuel cell, where electricity is generated by combining hydrogen and oxygen. In both cases, the chemical reaction is facilitated by means of a proton-exchange membrane (PEM).
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Bosch is collaborating with a number of partners to develop a way of combining the electrolyzer stack with a control unit, power electronics, and various sensors to create a smart module. With pilot plants scheduled to commence operation in the coming year, the company plans to supply these smart modules to manufacturers of electrolysis plants and industrial service providers from 2025 onward.
Bosch will incorporate a number of these compact modules using a simple process. These can then be used both in smaller units with capacity of up to ten megawatts and in gigawatt-rated onshore and offshore plants. To maximize the efficiency of hydrogen production and extend the service life of the stack, the smart modules are to be connected to the Bosch cloud.
At the same time, the use of a modular design for the electrolyzers is expected to make maintenance more flexible: any scheduled work will require the shutdown of certain sections of the plant only, instead of the entire facility. Bosch is also working on service concepts that will include the recycling of components in order to promote a circular economy.
Unlike many of the electrolyzer components currently on the market, the Bosch smart modules will be mass produced. As such, the manufacturing operation will generate economies of scale.
“Two key factors are involved in ramping up hydrogen production: speed and cost,” said Heyn. “This is where we can play to our strengths, thanks to our expertise in mass production and our automotive know-how.”
One intended use for the former is as small, on-site power plants for cities, data centers, shopping malls, business parks, and as charge spots for electric vehicles. Bosch plans to use mobile fuel cells to facilitate the climate-neutral shipping of goods and commodities, initially by truck.
The company’s portfolio of vehicle-related products in this field ranges from individual sensors to core components such as the electric air compressor, the stack, and complete fuel-cell modules. Production is expected to start this year.
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