German automotive supplier Robert Bosch will invest more than $200 million and add up to 350 jobs to expand an Anderson, South Carolina, facility to build hydrogen-powered fuel cells for heavy-duty truck makers starting in 2026.
Bosch currently supplies fuel cell technology to startup Nikola, which plans to begin production of its fuel cell electric Tre cabover truck in 2023. It plans a fuel cell sleeper cab for long-haul later. Nikola licensed Bosch technology to assemble its own fuel cell modules at its plant in Coolidge, Arizona.
Nikola has completed a fuel cell truck pilot with Anheuser-Busch in California. The prototype Tre models logged more than 12,000 miles and hauled 2 million pounds of freight. Nikola is now testing prototype fuel cell trucks with Total Transportation Services Inc.
“In order to successfully bring fuel cell technology to market in mass scale, it requires a combination of extensive experience in research and development, systems integration and complex manufacturing process,” Mike Mansuetti, president of Bosch in North America, said in a news release. Mansuetti also is a member of Nikola’s board of directors.
Bosch declined to identify any other customers by name.
Adding heft to hydrogen fuel cell story
The Bosch announcement adds heft to the hydrogen and fuel cell story for long-haul Class 8 transportation. With the longest-range battery-electric trucks topping out around 300 miles between chargings, fuel cells are increasingly being considered by fleets planning for zero-tailpipe emissions.
Money included in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act for hydrogen-powered vehicles and infrastructure also helps.
General Motors and Toyota Motor Corp. are building fuel cells in the U.S. as well. GM has a joint venture with Honda Motor Co. south of Detroit. Toyota Motor North America is adding a dedicated production line for heavy-duty truck fuel cell modules to its assembly complex in Kentucky beginning in 2023. Toyota makes the fuel cell stacks in Japan.
Engine maker Cummins Inc. also is bulking up its fuel cell trucking efforts. It will supply fuel cell upfits to Daimler Truck North America in 2024 and produce in 2027 a version of its 15-liter internal combustion engine to operate on hydrogen fuel.
South Carolina already builds complex electrical components
The Bosch Anderson facility is expanding to support fuel cell technology. Capital upgrades include an estimated 147,000 square feet of floor space for fuel cell stack manufacturing and a dust- and contaminant-free clean room and climate-controlled environments to assure quality.
Bosch began producing fuel rails in South Carolina in 1985. Its operations have expanded to sensors and electronic control units for the powertrain.
“For years, the Anderson associates have developed expertise in producing electronics and sensors, competencies that are very applicable to the fuel cell stack,” Mansuetti said.
A fuel cell uses hydrogen to generate electrical energy. As the hydrogen ions pass over the fuel cell plates, they combine with oxygen to create electricity. The only by-product is water, allowing the vehicle to run with no tailpipe emissions. Hydrogen produced using renewable energy enables fuel cells to operate nearly carbon dioxide-free.
Bosch has committed to spend up to $1 billion from 2021 through 2024 on fuel cell technology.