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Bosch begins volume production of hydrogen fuel cell power modules

IVECO Heavy Dutry FCEV - hydrogen powered truck

Bosch expects that by 2030 one in five new trucks worldwide weighing six tonnes or more will feature a fuel-cell powertrain, as does the IVECO Heavy Duty FCEV hydrogen powered truck seen here (Image: Bosch)

Bosch has begun volume production of hydrogen fuel cell power modules at its facilities in Stuttgart, Germany and Chongqing, China.

The modules will be used initially by a pilot customer, Nikola Corporation, for its Class 8 hydrogen fuel cell electric truck, scheduled to enter the North American market in the third quarter of 2023.

The announcement, made at the recent Bosch Tech Day 2023, forms part of Bosch’s plans to generate sales of roughly €5 billion via hydrogen technology by 2030, when the company expects that one in five new trucks worldwide weighing six tonnes or more will feature a fuel cell powertrain. 

“Bosch is one of the very few companies that are capable of mass producing technology as complex as fuel cell stacks. We don’t just have the required systems expertise, but also the capability of quickly scaling up new developments to mass production,” said Markus Heyn, member of the Bosch board of management and Chairman of Bosch Mobility.

The Stuttgart factory will be supplied with fuel cell stacks from Bosch’s Bamberg plant, while important system components such as electric air compressors and recirculation blowers will be delivered from its facility in Homburg. The components required at the Chongqing plant will come from a Bosch facility in Wuxi.

The Feuerbach plant

From July 2023, volume production of fuel cell power modules began at Bosch's plant in Feuerbach, Stuttgart (Image: Bosch)

“Bosch is the first company to produce these systems in both China and Germany,” said Dr Stefan Hartung, Chairman of the management board of Robert Bosch. In addition to China and Germany, the company is also planning to manufacture fuel cell stacks for mobile applications at its US plant in Anderson, South Carolina.

Apart from the fuel cell powertrain, Bosch is also working on hydrogen engines, developing systems for both port and direct injection of hydrogen. This solution is particularly suitable for heavy vehicles on long hauls with especially heavy loads. “A hydrogen engine can do everything a diesel engine does, but on top of that, it is carbon neutral. It also allows a fast and cost-effective entry into hydrogen-based mobility,” said Heyn. One major advantage, according to Bosch, is that more than 90% of the development and manufacturing technologies needed for it already exist. 

IVECO Heavy Dutry FCEV - hydrogen powered truck

The fuel cell-electric powertrain of the IVECO Heavy Duty FCEV (Image: Bosch)

The H2 engine is expected to be launched starting in 2024, with Bosch already having four orders for production projects from all the major economic regions, and expecting six-figure unit volumes by 2030.

In addition to developing fuel cell power modules and hydrogen engines, Bosch is also investing in the production of hydrogen itself. At the start of 2023, the firm began constructing prototypes for electrolysis using proton exchange membranes – the reverse of the energy conversion method used in mobile fuel cells. The company intends to make 1.25MW prototypes available in Autumn for pilot applications, and is on track to start volume production in 2025.

Increasing investment in the hydrogen economy

Bosch believes that only with hydrogen can there be a climate-neutral world, which explains why the firm continues to step up its investments in the hydrogen economy. Between 2021 and 2026, it will have invested a total of nearly €2.5 billion in the development and manufacturing of hydrogen technologies – a billion euros more than was initially earmarked in the firm’s 2021-2024 investment plan. More than 3,000 Bosch employees currently work in the field of hydrogen technology, with over half of those being in Europe.

However, Bosch believes that the future prospects of the hydrogen business depend on the political environment, with Hartung especially believing that Europe must do much more to create a counterweight to the rapid pace of developments in other regions of the world, such as the US. More specifically, the Chairman has four demands of German and European policymakers: “First, we have to step up the pace of hydrogen production in the EU. Second, global supply chains have to be set up, and third, hydrogen has to be used in all sectors of the economy.” As a fourth point, he stresses the importance of quickly setting up infrastructure for distributing hydrogen in Europe.

How are lasers used in the production of hydrogen fuel cells?

Lasers have been recognised as being key to achieving the many high-quality, gas-tight welds required at the heart of hydrogen fuel cells in 'the stack', which consists of many ultrathin stainless-steel bipolar plates – responsible for converting hydrogen and oxygen into electricity, water and heat. Each plate is approximately the size of an A4 sheet of paper and is not much thicker than a human hair.

The stack features 300-500 plates welded together, requiring hundreds of thin seams to be made, each anywhere from 3-5m in length and being barely visible to the naked eye. The welds must be made over complex geometries over a very large area with tremendous accuracy. In addition, stack manufacturers must keep the heat entering the workpiece to a minimum in order to prevent the metal sheets from warping. This stringent list of requirements rules out almost all the available joining processes – apart from the laser.

To learn more about the types of laser technology being mobilised for hydrogen fuel cell production, click here.

Read more about:

Fuel cells, E-mobility, Automotive, Welding

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