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Bosch commits long term to hydrogen fuel cell market

German engineering and electronics company, Bosch, has entered the market for  hydrogen fuel cell technology announcing it has partnered with Powercell Sweden AB to produce the polymer-electrolyte membrane fuel cells for serial production.

Fuel cell stacks, for which Powercell Sweden AB is a specialist, form the conversion of gas into electricity in the emerging powertrain technology currently being pioneered by the likes of the Nikola Motor Company for whom Bosch is allied.

The Nikola Two revealed at the recent Nikola World event featured systems and components from the Bosch supply chain.

According to a statement from Bosch, the best opportunities for broad adoption of fuel-cell technology are in the commercial-vehicle market.

“Through commercialisation and widespread marketing of this technology, Bosch will achieve economies of scale and push down costs,” said Stefan Hartung, Bosch Mobility Solutions Business Sector.

“In the fuel-cell domain, Bosch already has a strong hand, and the alliance with Powercell makes it even stronger. Commercialising technology is one of our strengths. We are now going to take on this task with determination and develop this market.”

The transition to passenger vehicles is anticipated once broader uptake of the hydrogen technology takes place in the heavy commercial vehicle space.

As fuel cell systems are expensive the cell stack is regarded as the most cost-prohibitive component accounting for close to two thirds of the outlay for a hydrogen fuel cell system.

Current costs for hydrogen as a fuel source would also need to fall.

At present hydrogen is produced in large part for industrial applications although production would need to increase for a decrease in price to occur.

Bosch, as part of its longer term strategy, intends to manufacture this technology under licence for the global automotive market.

A small network of over 60 hydrogen filling stations currently exists in Germany with the number expected to rise.

Three litres of diesel equates to around one kilogram of hydrogen.

Electricity with a water byproduct is created through a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen in the fuel cell to power the electric motor or recharge the battery.

Through the use of two or more stacks the power requirements of most heavy vehicles and passenger cars, according to Bosch, can be met.

Hydrogen tanks on commercial vehicles can be refilled with highly compressed gas in a matter of minutes.

In certain situations the battery can be used to boost the performance of the fuel cell, for instance on steep inclines, where stored energy will augment the drivetrain.

The fuel cell system has been likened to a hybrid powertrain according to Head of Commercial and Off-Road Vehicles Bosch North America Jason Roycht.

Speaking at Nikola World he said the Bosch technology and system approach is adaptable for use across Nikola's full line of vehicles including the Nikola One Sleeper Can and Nikola Tre, its hydrogen-electric truck for European markets.  

“This has been a two-and-a-half year cooperation targeted at implementing advanced technology into a totally new and unique approach to trucking with the highest levels of engineering excellence,” he said.

“We’ve learned from each other and together pushed ourselves to achieve what seemed to everyone else to be impossible. The Nikola Two is not just a simple evolution of today’s heavy duty truck. It’s a revolution in both sophisticated control and design.”

In late 2017 Bosch signed off on an agreement with Weichai Power, a Shandong-based state-owned manufacturer of diesel commercial vehicles to develop hydrogen fuel cells and related technology in China.

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