Everyone is going electric, Bosch is going on the hydrogen offensive


    Roaring engines are the least one could expect: After all, the 4,500 employees on the 130,000 square meter factory premises of Robert Bosch GmbH in Homburg primarily manufacture injection systems for diesel engines and hydraulic controls for agricultural machinery.

    But visitors to the Saarland Bosch works can safely leave ear plugs at home: Apart from the summertime birdsong, it is quiet around the factories, and a few large limousines glide completely silently through the factory streets.

    It is a small fleet of Toyota Mirai at a unit price of 63,900 euros in the basic version. Rarely seen on the streets, the cars in the Bosch yard make a statement. As if in a quiet, defiant rebellion against the global trend towards electric mobility, the world’s largest automotive supplier says: Don’t forget the advantages of hydrogen and fuel cells.

    Because sooner or later all Bosch Toyotas head for two white containers on the edge of the factory premises and fill their tanks with hydrogen. Bosch produces 20 tons of this volatile gas itself, in a container-sized electrolysis plant right next door, which draws its electricity from the company’s own solar park. “The fuel is already cheaper than diesel today,” says Stefan Aßmann, Business Chief Digital Officer of the Industrial Technology division.

    Bosch is an automotive supplier, but not only: The heating manufacturer Bosch Thermotechnik has also recognized the potential of the climate-neutral by-product of water. And that’s why Bosch now wants to massively expand hydrogen production and recycling as a cross-cutting issue. An entire “hydrogen cycle” is planned in Homburg, ranging from production using electrolysis and use in heating systems and engines to reconversion in stationary fuel cells.

    “Hydrogen is becoming a key element for security of supply,” says Rolf Najork, member of the Bosch board of management and head of production. “We are therefore now bringing hydrogen-based technologies from the laboratory to industrial reality – onto the streets and into the factories.”

    At the Hanover Fair, which will be attracting the masses for the first time again as a face-to-face event on May 30, Bosch wants to show how far it has come and what else is planned. The aim is nothing less than “sector coupling”, i.e. the connection of transport, industry, electricity and heat generation via hydrogen as an energy carrier.

    The cycle begins with electrolysis, the splitting of water using electricity. For the first time, Bosch now also wants to produce components for electrolysis systems and combine them with power electronics to form “smart modules” in order to be able to flexibly adapt hydrogen production to demand depending on the area of ​​application.

    When it comes to the use of hydrogen, the core element is a solution devised by Bosch Rexroth and its partner Maximator Hydrogen for compressing the gas for filling stations, storage facilities and pipelines, which is being tested in Homburg. By the end of the decade, this technology is to be used in 4,000 hydrogen filling stations worldwide. Every third hydrogen filling station in the world will then have Bosch components.

    In the rapidly expanding international market for hydrogen and its technologies, the fact that the Bosch inventors want to have mastered a particular difficulty in handling the gas should arouse particular interest: the problem with the seals.

    Because hydrogen, the smallest molecule with the molecular formula H2, is difficult to tame and in pure form can hardly be transported over long distances: It diffuses everywhere and easily escapes unused into the atmosphere. “An Achilles’ heel of this technology,” says Manager Aßmann, for which a remedy has been found: Thanks to a Bosch patent, hydrogen filling stations will no longer have to change the seals on the pipelines once a month, but only once a year.

    An automatic seal exchange makes it possible. “The new container-based compressors have the potential to cut the overall costs for operators by half,” the company says. Bosch and Maximator thus made “an important contribution to the economical use of green hydrogen in cars, commercial vehicles, buses and trains.”

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