Powerhouse Bosch is partnering with leading fuel cell stack manufacturer Powercell to develop and license a new line of hydrogen fuel cells for automotive applications. The new partnership is a realization that hydrogen fuel cells have the potential to become a significant portion of the automotive market over the next decade, according to Bosch.
A Fuel-Cell Powered Future
“Bosch is entering the market for mobile fuel-cells and is pushing ahead with their commercialization,” Bosch board member Dr. Stefan Hartung said of the new partnership. The new agreement will see Bosch partnering with Swedish Powercell to co-develop polymer-electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel-cells. After the initial development, Bosch will manufacture and bring the new fuel-cell stacks to market in 2022 ‘at the latest’, according to the press release about the new partnership.
The company is not only exploring options for different onboard energy storage technologies, it is actively working to develop fuel cells with different technologies. In August of last year, Bosch entered into an agreement with UK-based solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) developer Ceres to co-develop and manufacture fuel cells. These larger fuel cells are well-suited for stationary energy storage solutions and Bosch envisions a future where neighborhoods, industrial facilities, and campuses can install a fuel cell on the order of 10kW. These smaller units would provide local energy storage and peaker generation capabilities, directly replacing their natural gas counterparts.
“Bosch believes that the highly efficient fuel cell, with its very low emissions, has an important role to play in energy systems’ security of supply and flexibility,” Hartung said when the Ceres deal was announced. SOFCs bring the potential for higher combined heat and power efficiencies, but with a longer startup time and higher operating temperatures than the more traditional PEM stacks used in the automotive space.
Cleaner Fleets Are Needed
The new push into fuel cells for Bosch is founded on the core belief that the automotive world will transition to new energy vehicles in the next decade. Bosch believes that, “as much as 20 percent of all electric vehicles worldwide will be powered by fuel cells by 2030,” according to a recent press release.
This belief is founded on the current landscape of EU fleet regulations that mandate CO2 emissions reductions of 15% on average by 2025 and 30% by 2030 that can only be met by vehicle electrification. Bosch sees the biggest opportunity to attack these emissions with fuel cells in the heavy vehicle space, making the bullish push by America’s Nikola Motor Company into fuel cell class 8 trucks an attractive fish to land.
CleanTechnica spoke to Bosch at Nikola World about the wide array of technologies Bosch has developed and continues to develop in the vehicle electrification and smart vehicle space, which were very complementary to the direction Nikola is going with its trucks. Smart mirrors that replace physical mirrors with smart cameras that not only see where traditional drivers cannot, they also leverage software to maximize the functionality of the camera to provide multiple views and angles for drivers, taking visibility and safety to the next level.
Back to the fuel cell, the current focus with Powercell is to drive scale up to drive costs down. The biggest chunk of that expense is in the fuel cell stack. This is the heart of a fuel cell vehicle and accounts for ‘nearly two-thirds of the total cost of a fuel-cell system’ according to Bosch. “Through commercialization and widespread marketing of this technology, Bosch will achieve economies of scale and push down costs,” Hartung said.
A Next Generation Powertrain
Bosch continues to lead the march into new energy technologies, leveraging its mastery of all things electrified in a line of ebike solutions, automotive electrification solutions, and its urban transportation shuttles, to name a few. The new move into fuel cell stack co-development is a signal that the German powerhouse sees potential for hydrogen in the automotive space as internal combustion solutions are systematically displaced by electric motors and onboard energy storage solutions in the automotive space.
For decades, legacy automobile companies have built up a core competency in the heart of the vehicle – combustion motor and transmissions – but have largely failed to build up serious solutions in the new energy vehicle space. The moves Bosch has made in the electric vehicle space, and now with hydrogen fuel cells, makes it clear that Bosch sees the gap and is aggressively moving to build the powertrains and energy storage systems for the next generation of automobiles.
The Future Of Fueling Networks
Looking to the future, Bosch sees a healthy market for hydrogen fuel cells in the automotive space. In Germany, Bosch’s home, a network of 60 hydrogen filling stations already exists, dwarfing California’s diminutive 39-station network. This network provides more mobility and confidence for drivers across Germany’s 138,000 square miles, compared to California’s larger and taller 164,000 miles.
As demand for zero emission transportation solutions increases, this network will continue to grow as fleet managers, automotive manufacturers, and technology developers like Bosch partner to develop the future of clean transportation.
Today, a modern 40-ton truck will run seven or 8 kilograms of hydrogen through its fuel cell stack to go 100 miles. Efficiency is not the only name of the game when it comes to zero emission fleets, but it does make for a stronger case when it comes to the total cost of ownership analysis. After all, it is the bean counters and their Excel spreadsheets that rule the world, for better or worse.