German automotive supplier Robert Bosch will make and sell air compressors to Cellentric, the fuel cell joint venture of Germany’s Daimler Truck AG and Sweden’s Volvo Group AB.
Trucks and stationary fuel cells for data centers and other high-power installations are several years away. But Cellentric is beginning to contract for the major components it will need for mid-decade production. Air compressors govern the fuel-cell system’s oxygen supply.
Hydrogen-powered fuel cell commercial trucks are expected to play a big part in decarbonizing transportation as manufacturers focus on becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Running a fuel-cell powertrain on green hydrogen derived from renewable energy sources makes the vehicle carbon neutral.
Fuel cells separate hydrogen molecules from oxygen to create electrical energy and heat. The only emission is water vapor.
Daimler has 30 years of experience in fuel cells. It developed a Mercedes-Benz GLC-based F-cell in 2013 but abandoned the project in 2020 because of its expense. Shortly thereafter, Daimler teamed with rival Volvo in the 50-50 joint venture. The companies closed the deal in April. Volvo paid $700 million to Daimler for its stake.
Bosch is a major player in fuel cells. It received what it described as a “major order” for electric air compressors with integrated power electronics for Cellcentric. It did not disclose contract details other than saying it is a long-term agreement.
Like Bosch, Cellcentric is planning to become a leading global manufacturer of fuel-cell systems. Bosch developed much of the system and a range of other components for the Nikola Two fuel cell electric vehicle due in 2023.
As the electric air compressor supplies the required amount of filtered air, it is one of the core components of a fuel-cell system.
“Bosch is devoting a huge effort to developing this component,” Uwe Gackstatter, president of the Bosch Powertrain Solutions division, said in a press release. “For example, we have 15 cross-divisional teams working to commercialize the electric air compressor.”
Easy system integration
The air compressor comes in 20- and 30-kilowatt variants. The 30-kilowatt class is rated for voltages from 450 to 850, typical for high-power use. The 20-kilowatt class is rated for either 250-450 volts or 450-850 volts.
The compressor wheel reaches speeds of more than 100,000 rpm. “The combination of a high-speed electric motor with integrated power electronics enables easy system integration at competitive manufacturing costs,” Gackstatter said.
The greatest technical challenge with the air compressor is scaling production of the high-speed electric motors with their air bearings and power electronics for large-scale manufacturing. The overall technical complexity is comparable to a diesel injection system for commercial vehicles.
Bosch is investing about $714 million in mobile fuel-cell applications about $476 million in stationary fuel cells for electricity and heat generation.
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