German multinational Bosch has started mass production of fuel cell power modules at its Stuttgart-Feuerbach factory and Chongqing facility in China, as it unveiled plans yesterday (Thursday) to invest an extra €1bn ($1.12bn) into hydrogen technologies and generate €5bn in sales.

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The company has already secured an initial customer for the fuel cells with Nikola Corporation, which is expected to launch its Class 8 fuel-cell electric truck to the North American market this quarter.

Bosch also plans to start manufacturing fuel cell stacks for mobility at its factory in the US state of South Carolina, although a timeline for this production line has not been given.

In total, the German company plans to have invested €2.5bn in hydrogen technologies since 2021 up to 2026, an extra €1bn from its previous investment plan for 2021-24.

However, the firm also projects that globally, one in five new trucks weighing six tonnes or more will use fuel cell power trains by 2030 — which could be an optimistic assumption given growing competition with electric options.

Demand for H2 and the continued prospects for Bosch’s hydrogen business, which currently employs more than 3,000 people, will hinge on a more supportive policy environment in Europe and Germany in particular, according to Bosch CEO Stefan Hartung.

“First, we have to step up the pace of hydrogen production in the EU. Second, global supply chains have to be set up, and third, hydrogen has to be used in all sectors of the economy,” he said, adding that infrastructure to distribute these molecules throughout Europe will need to be rapidly built.

The German multinational is also expanding its reach into H2 production and stationary fuel cells for power generation.

Bosch will this year pilot a 1.25MW proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyser with the aim of scaling up manufacturing in 2025. And the German multinational is currently running a pilot project at a hospital in Erkelenz, near Cologne, using a stationary solid-oxide fuel cell (SOFC) to supply power and heat to demonstrate 90% efficiency — although it will initially run on fossil gas.

The firm this week secured a €161m grant from the German government towards industrial production of its SOFCs.

However, the company also last month halted a planned fuel cell production line for refrigerated truck trailers at its Rodez factory in France, citing a lack of immediate customers.

In addition, the firm is also developing a hydrogen engine, which it plans to launch in 2024.

“A hydrogen engine can do everything a diesel engine does, but on top of that, it is carbon neutral. It also allows a fast and cost-effective entry into hydrogen-based mobility,” said chairman of Bosch Mobility Markus Heyn.

Bosch expects to benefit from its decades of experience developing and manufacturing diesel engines. But while H2 engines are expected to have a lower upfront cost than fuel cell powertrains and be capable of running on less pure H2, they are also much less efficient and more likely to produce NOx emissions.