Bosch SOFC system at Hydrogen Campus supplies plant with energy
An ambitious field trial in Salzgitter is putting the energy supply technology of the future to the test. Regional partners from business, science, and politics are jointly trialing hydrogen as an energy carrier. Bosch is playing a role in the Hydrogen Campus project with its solid oxide fuel cell system SOFC, which generates electricity and heat on a decentralized basis. Currently still operating on natural gas, the long-term goal is to run the fuel cells on hydrogen in order to make the Bosch plant in Salzgitter climate-neutral and more energy self-sufficient.
Ten fuel cells have been integrated into the Salzgitter plant’s energy supply system, with five units in the actual energy center.
A wind of change from Lower Saxony
Salzgitter is a prime location for a large German hydrogen campus. Lower Saxony generates a great deal of renewable energy from onshore wind farms, offshore wind turbines in the Wadden Sea, and photovoltaic installations. Large terminals for liquid gas tankers are planned or already under construction in Wilhelmshaven and Stade. What’s more, a first hydrogen pipeline is set to reach Salzgitter in the near future. For the Bosch plant in Salzgitter, which produces electronic control units (ECUs), these are ideal conditions for testing hydrogen technologies that could contribute to energy supplies.
“It’s a bit like a tekkie thing – when someone brings along a new high-tech baby, everyone wants to explore its promising potential”, says Veronique Treuheit with a smile. A civil engineer and head of the Facility Management team at the Bosch plant in Salzgitter, she is responsible for incorporating the fuel cells into the location’s supply infrastructure and ensuring this infrastructure will also work perfectly with the new energy source of hydrogen in the future.
The ten fuel cells generating electricity and heat for the plant, each with an output of 10 kW, are the “high-tech baby” she is referring to. The solid oxide fuel cells developed by Bosch – SOFC for short – are operating here under the realistic conditions of an established production plant. In this pilot setup, they are being run on natural gas for the time being and cover around 5 percent of the energy demand of production operations in Salzgitter. This proportion will rise, with the fuel cells also being used to generate heat. But, it is not just the testing of technical innovations that motivates Bosch's commitment to the Hydrogen Campus. It is about security of supply and climate neutrality. The events of 2022 have clearly shown that becoming too dependent on energy supplied by third parties puts industrial companies under unprecedented pressure. However, hydrogen is an energy source that offers tantalizing prospects, because it doesn’t depend on raw materials. If this gas is produced using electricity generated from renewable sources, its energy, which can be stored, is both emission-free and climate-neutral. This is then referred to as green hydrogen. When converted back into electricity in SOFC fuel cells, hydrogen is suitable as a stationary, decentralized power supply for industrial plants, data centers, residential areas, and commercial buildings.
Hydrogen Campus technology project
Pilot operation of the SOFC fuel cells is part of the Hydrogen Campus Salzgitter research and technology project, which involves several project partners.
Kolja Backsmann, an engineer who has worked for Bosch since 2005, is in charge of the company’s Factory Transformation project. He also represents Bosch at the Hydrogen Campus, with its numerous cooperation projects. “The objective of the Hydrogen Campus is to establish hydrogen technology in the region and provide hands-on experience – from production, storage, and transportation to use as an energy source. By providing information and serving as a model, the campus is intended to motivate new stakeholders to put hydrogen technology on their agendas,” he says, explaining the approach of creating a nucleus for technology transfer.
In the Bosch Factory Transformation project, Kolja Backsmann is focusing on making the plant’s energy system fit for the future. There are some 1400 associates manufacturing ECUs in Salzgitter. “In our case, factory transformation means using and trying out technologies to make the location carbon-neutral, and also more efficient and flexible in terms of energy. The SOFC fuel cells are part of this overall system and, in the future, they are set to help meet our plant’s energy requirements and run on hydrogen,” continues Kolja Backsmann. “Naturally, it’s exciting for the Facility Management team to integrate a completely new technology into an established supply system. Every day, new questions are arising and we’re finding new answers,” adds Veronique Treuheit.
While waiting for the conversion to hydrogen, Veronique Treuheit, Kolja Backsmann, and their colleagues are developing the holistic control technology needed to make sure that energy generated in-house is used to the greatest extent possible in the factory system. The control concept also includes mapping the energy supply system in a digital twin. Kolja Backsmann explains the idea behind this. “Bosch can use this virtual depiction to supply operators not just with the fuel cell units, but also the associated range of services. When maintenance work is required, the Bosch engineers know in advance which parts of the system they need to focus on and can bring the necessary replacement parts with them,” he says. The digital twin also makes it much simpler to monitor energy production and consumption.
Climate-neutral energy systems for the future
Salzgitter was chosen as the pilot location for the Factory Transformation project because the Hydrogen Campus provides key infrastructure elements. The aim is to base the plant’s energy supply on several sources to ensure climate-neutral, energy-efficient operation. “Our photovoltaic installation already produces surplus energy that can be stored in the form of hydrogen and converted back into electricity by the SOFC technology,” reports Veronique Treuheit.
Bosch installed a 25,000 square meter photovoltaic system with an output of 2.7 megawatts at the Salzgitter plant in 2021 and expanded this by a further two megawatts in 2022. The next technological step will be the installation of an electrolyzer to convert the surplus energy from the photovoltaic system into hydrogen which will then be stored in a tank that is also being planned. “Once the electrolyzer has been installed, we can also supply this green hydrogen to other partners on the campus,” adds Kolja Backsmann. What’s more, there are plans to switch over some elements of the intralogistics systems between the Bosch plants to hydrogen-powered vehicles. “The hydrogen technology we are developing is a future-proof energy source that has the further advantage of being climate-neutral. Trying out the SOFC technology at a Bosch plant to get it ready for customer applications is a great opportunity for us here in Salzgitter,” sums up Veronique Treuheit.
The decentralized supply of electricity and heat from hydrogen will be a key part of the energy transition. Surplus electricity from photovoltaic installations and wind turbines can be converted into hydrogen using electrolysis at numerous locations and fed into the gas grid. When less renewable energy is available, this hydrogen can then be converted back in fuel cells and the electricity that is generated can be fed back into the power grid. Looking even further ahead, there are plans and ideas for producing hydrogen directly in offshore wind turbines using electrolysis and transporting this to consumers in pipelines.
Overview of the Factory Transformation project
A combination of different energy sources is being trialed at the Salzgitter location. Ten SOFC fuel cell systems at the Hydrogen Campus are a key part of this. When they reach the final development stage, these stationary, decentralized energy suppliers will run on green hydrogen. The trial covers the production, transportation, and storage of hydrogen, and the use of various renewable sources to supply the Bosch plant with energy. The aim is for the location to operate on a carbon-neutral basis with flexible and efficient use of energy. The concept also includes a digital twin of the supply system, which pinpoints ways of optimizing servicing and maintenance work.
Carbon neutrality and energy efficiency/flexibility for the Bosch plant in Salzgitter.
Area of application
Industrial environment. Decentralized supply of electricity and heat.
Bosch plant in Salzgitter, which manufactures electronic ECUs.
Factory transformation means we try out innovative technologies to make the location carbon-neutral and more efficient and flexible in terms of energy. The SOFC systems are part of this overall system and, in the future, they are set to help meet our plant’s energy supply and run on hydrogen.
- SOFC units installed at the plant
- kW (nominal) of electrical energy
- kW of thermal energy
- percent of the plant’s electricity requirements are covered
- start date for the first SOFC systems
The Bosch SOFC system is currently in the pilot phase. All technical specifications given are development objectives and refer to the beginning of life.