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Bosch to Invest $200M to Make Hydrogen Fuel Cells in South Carolina

September 1, 2022 by Dan McCue
(Bosch photo)

ANDERSON, S.C. — Robert Bosch, the German engineering giant, is investing $200 million in an existing plant in South Carolina to transform it into the company’s first North American site producing hydrogen-powered fuel stacks for future electric vehicles.

The fuel cells produced by the plant are expressly earmarked for use in Class 8 commercial trucks — the 18-wheel long-haulers one typically sees on the nation’s interstate highways.

In a press release, the company explained that it sees mobile fuel cell technology as a viable option for climate-neutral transportation of goods in Class 8 vehicles where battery electric alone “still presents challenges due to battery size and weight.”

“Fuel cells make all-electric operation of large vehicles for long trips a reality,” the company said.

Mike Mansuetti, president of Bosch in North America, was even more bullish during the announcement of the investment on Wednesday, saying, “The hydrogen economy holds great promise and at Bosch we are all in.” 

“This is a significant milestone as we announce the first fuel-cell related production for Bosch in the U.S. to support the growing demand from our local customers as part of a diverse approach to powertrain technology,” he added.

Bosch has a long presence in the Anderson, South Carolina, area, where it has had a production facility since 1985. Over the years its operations have expanded to multiple products within the Bosch Mobility Solutions business sector, including sensors and electronic control units for the powertrain.

And company officials said Wednesday the Bosch Anderson facility has already begun work on the expansion to support fuel cell technology. 

Capital upgrades to the Anderson campus include an estimated 147,000 square feet of floor space to be developed to manufacture the fuel cell stack as well as supporting clean room and climate-controlled environments required for quality-critical processes.

A fuel cell operates by using 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 zero local carbon emissions. When hydrogen is produced using renewable energy, also called green hydrogen, fuel cells enable vehicles to be operated nearly CO2-free.

But for all its promise, fuel cell stack production remains a highly complex undertaking. One stack consists of 3,200 individual parts assembled, more than 400 layers and more than 100 unique components. Fuel cell stack production in Anderson will expand on Bosch’s existing global production for fuel cell stacks, including critical sub-components.

“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,” Mansuetti said.

“Bosch is unique in its ability in all these areas. The work we have already done in commercializing fuel cell technology builds on our extensive experience in developing and manufacturing products for the internal combustion engine at scale.”

At present, Bosch’s main customer for fuel cell stacks is Arizona-based vehicle manufacturer  Nikola Corp., which has been pilot testing prototype Class 8 fuel cell electric vehicles with Anheuser-Busch in California. 

These prototype trucks logged over 12,000 miles and hauled 2 million pounds of freight, Bosch said.

Bosch has two other facilities in Germany and China focusing on fuel cell stack production. 

“Helping Bosch to be among the first to commercialize fuel cell stack production in the U.S. speaks to the strength of our manufacturing industry and workforce,” said South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, in a written statement. 

“We are grateful for Bosch’s commitment to our state and look forward to strengthening our partnership,” the Republican added.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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