Director, Smart Mobility Initiatives
While reading about Germany’s recently announced national hydrogen strategy, I came across Bosch’s press release about its recent fuel cell demonstration — a small presentation with large implications. Bosch is piloting this fuel cell technology at one of its own facilities to validate its performance and ability to contribute to emissions reductions. If successful, this type of technology could move from supplementing existing power systems to becoming a primary source of decentralized power generation. To learn more, I conducted a quick, socially distanced interview with Dr. Martin Hering, the senior technical business development expert for stationary fuel cell system solutions at Bosch North America.
Photo courtesy of Bosch.
Hi Martin! I’m very excited to talk to you today about an innovative energy solution Bosch is working on, but first, please provide the readers a little background on Bosch as a company.
Hi Tim, thanks a lot for reaching out and providing this exciting opportunity to talk about Bosch and our innovative energy solutions.
The Bosch Group is a leading global supplier of technology and services. It employs roughly 400,000 associates worldwide and generated sales of $85.7 billion in 2019. Its operations are divided into four business sectors: Mobility Solutions, Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods and Energy and Building Technology.
As a leading Internet of Things company, Bosch offers innovative solutions for smart homes, smart cities, connected mobility and connected manufacturing. In short, Bosch creates technology that is “invented for life.”
Thank you for that background on Bosch. Some readers might only associate Bosch with automotive solutions, and now we know your company does much more than that. And that’s important because I want to talk with you about a technology that a lot of people might not associate with Bosch. I understand that you are part of a team working on a decentralized power solution. Why is this technology important to Bosch?
Sustainability, energy efficiency and quality of life are very important topics for Bosch. Actually, Bosch will be the first major industrial enterprise to achieve complete carbon neutrality by the end of 2020. Therefore, we are not only improving the energy efficiency of our plants and buildings, but also heavily investing in the research and development of new sustainable and efficient solutions for the energy sector (e.g., fuel cells, heat pumps and hydrogen-ready boilers).
In detail, we are working on a novel solution for stationary decentralized power generation. It is a high-temperature fuel cell system that provides electricity by utilizing renewable hydrogen or conventional natural gas. We believe this technology can help shape and transition into the energy system of the future. It is a decentralized power generator with high efficiencies, which ultimately reduces or eliminates carbon emissions. We are aiming to provide a reliable and sustainable way to supply electricity to various use cases, like data centers, facilities, commercial buildings and industrial applications.
It is great to see a major global player like Bosch taking such an active role in carbon reduction, both in terms of technology development and from a corporate standpoint. Now I really want to learn more about this fuel cell that you’re working on.
As mentioned before, it is a high-temperature fuel cell system based upon solid oxide fuel cell technology. SOFCs are electrochemical devices that directly convert chemical into electrical energy with outstanding net efficiencies of around 60%. The core of the technology is functional ceramic cells with small double-digit power outputs, which are combined to form a fuel cell stack, which creates higher power outputs. In a fuel cell system, multiple solid oxide fuel cell stacks are integrated with thermal and balance-of-plant components (like a thermal heat exchanger network, blowers, sensors and actuators), allowing for the supply and conditioning of the fuel and process air, as well as the discharge of the exhaust gas.
One of our solid oxide fuel cells system has an output power of around 10 kW. Those individual 10 kW systems can be linked to provide highly efficient and reliable power supply solutions from the kW to the MW range. Additionally, the compact and robust design, as well as the fuel flexibility (it can run on conventional natural gas, biogas and /or hydrogen) allows for a widespread adoption of these scalable fuel cell devices.
To develop our solid oxide fuel cells systems, we combine the core competencies of our automotive and thermotechnology divisions with our strong research background in the field of fuel cells, applying our existing knowledge and know-how to transform and create new “invented for life” products.
Bosch is obviously not the only company working on SOFC technology. What can you tell me about your technology and what makes it unique?
First, we have a strong collaboration with Ceres Power as our key technology partner using their steel cell technology. Whereas conventional solid oxide fuel cells use a pure ceramic interface to stabilize the cells, steel cell technology uses a metal sheet coated with thin layers of the functional ceramics as a repetitive element. Their disruptive technology pairs high efficiencies with mass manufacturing capabilities and rapid scale-up potentials.
Second, a key aspect to our technology is that it currently runs on conventional natural gas with high efficiency while transitioning into a future energy system, so our systems are already prepared for the fuels of the future (for example “hydrogen-ready” using renewable hydrogen). Additionally, solid oxide fuel cells can derive power on demand and are therefore highly compatible with the fluctuating generation of renewables (such as solar and wind power). Our systems with their 60% energy efficiencies not only have the potential of reducing the carbon footprint today by allowing for faster reduction of less-efficient conventional coal- and gas-based technologies, but also offering a smooth transition into a world that uses green hydrogen.
Third, we also use a modular approach with small-scale individual units, which enable high reliabilities, redundancies and scalability from the kW to MW range. Additionally, we are also envisioning micro- or nanogrid solutions, which can be used for islanded or stand-alone grid applications or for local grid/user stabilization during power outages.
I personally like how what you’re describing can be a bridge to a renewable hydrogen-powered future while leveraging our natural gas infrastructure today. What are your next steps toward a commercially available product?
We are currently in a precommercial development stage. Last year, we started with internal field trials with multiple units. We recently expanded the field trial to demonstrate our technology together with public and private partners outside of Bosch. On the technical side, we are currently working on the development of the next system iteration, which aims to fulfill the necessary requirements to start U.S. field tests. Additionally, we are currently ramping up cell, stack and system production. We are also working on a data center-integrated demonstration project in our research facility in Germany.
Thank you for taking the time to discuss this SOFC technology with me. If anyone wants to learn more, can they get in touch with you?