“Our company’s very first integrated SOFC test laboratory has begun operation and will be providing us with important information for the planned series production of the fuel cell system for decentralized energy supply.”
The turnkey pilot system supplements the existing energy-efficient electricity and heat supply for production at the Thermotechnology site in Wernau, Germany, and has a second life in product development services as a digital twin.
Drive meets team spirit
Antonella Tetro is devoting all her energy to advancing the upcoming industrialization of our decentralized fuel cell systems. As Project Manager, she coordinated all the different threads that went into building the SOFC pilot system in Wernau. Along with her colleagues, she’s now keeping a close watch on the test station every day with a view to launching a system on the market which has already successfully fulfilled all the practical requirements encountered in an industrial environment.
When Project Manager Antonella Tetro looks out the window of her office at Bosch’s Wernau location, she sees the immediate fruits of her entire team’s labor: a container. Yes, a container. “It’s what’s inside that counts,” Tetro laughs. Originally from Italy, she’s worked at Bosch since 2005 and takes interested visitors on a high-tech tour. She carries the key to the future right on her key ring. When she opens the steel door of the approximately 13-meter-long, 2.4-meter-deep, and 2.9-meter-tall structure, you can’t begin to guess what all the systems inside have to offer. When you enter the narrow passage that runs alongside the sophisticated black high-tech devices, the labels on the units tell you that it has something to do with some form of electricity and energy. “And it happens to be one of the most innovative forms,” the Project Manager proudly declares: “Fuel-cell technology.” Ten units, each in the performance class up to 10 kW, stand side by side. “In the fuel cell, an electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen produces electricity for the factory here in Wernau. At this time, the system is still powered by natural gas that’s converted to hydrogen in a reformer,” Tetro explains. “In addition to electricity, heat is generated along with water. With the help of a heat exchanger, the result is hot service water that can be transferred to the heating system.” What may sound simple is the result of months of work in Wernau, all in the service of the fundamental conversion of energy systems to innovative and emission-free technologies.
This result can only be achieved through a combined effort that includes the test customer. “The Thermotechnology location in Wernau was immediately interested in trying out our reliable, decentralized energy source as a pilot system to bring the factory one step closer to carbon neutrality,” says Tetro. The driving force was Uwe Wild from the Wernau factory. He was technical coordinator of the project, and his decades-long experience in the fields of infrastructure and energy enabled him to provide on-site support. It wasn’t just a matter of installing a container. “From the very start, our ambition was to build a turnkey system with all the trappings, so that other potential customers will be instantly won over when they learn that all they have to do is install gas and electric lines,” Wild explains. No sooner said than done. The turnkey system in Wernau is equipped with desulfurization plants, air treatment systems, a heat exchanger, a gas analyzer, a heat meter, and gas, water, and exhaust pipe systems. If you look a little closer at the interior of the container, you’ll also discover a box marked Grid Module. “That’s an extremely important component – in a certain sense, it’s the bridge to the local grid operator,” says Wild. This control technology is the only way to ensure a reliable power supply. Theoretically, SOFC systems can generate so much electricity that they’ll exceed electricity consumption. A grid module controls the output to prevent the grid from becoming destabilized. “Although we’re not connected to the local grid, we want to systematically prepare everything in the Wernau SOFC pilot system for this eventuality, and also obtain all the required approvals and certificates. This allows us to test how we might be able to supply customers with fully integrated turnkey systems on demand later on,” Wild says. He’s pleased with the way the team was able to plan and build the sophisticated electrical installation in collaboration with the Dutch specialist Van Halteren Technologies (formerly part of Bosch Rexroth).
Jointly towards CO₂ neutrality
“That’s where our SOFC is particularly impressive, because it has the potential to reduce our location’s carbon footprint, making it an important component in the energy transition,” Tetro says. A lot of her motivation comes from a desire to advance the transformation of our energy systems. “It all makes so much sense here,” says the trained mechatronics expert. She’s worked for Bosch in numerous positions around the world, chiefly in the automotive sector, the birthplace of fuel cell technology at Bosch. But the SOFC team also knows that it takes a lot of system knowledge to successfully position the product on the market. That’s why the pilot system simultaneously serves as an SOFC test lab in continuous operation. This means that with the support of an edge controller, all the data between the SOFC system and the rest of the infrastructure can be bundled at the interface and made available to a digital twin, where it can be further processed and analyzed. All the relevant measurement results are then incorporated in the ongoing development of the product. “For example, the CO sensor head is evaluated to determine the effects of the ambient temperature,” Wild says. The team is assisted by the digital twin: The entire system is digitally simulated on the computer, making it possible to monitor and analyze it in real time. “This allows us to continuously improve the overall SOFC product,” Tetro explains.
Our pilot application at a glance
The SOFC system at the Wernau location is the first of its kind from Bosch. In addition to the ten units, it combines all the essential auxiliary installations and systems in one turnkey, pre-certified pilot solution. This includes desulfurization plants, air treatment systems, a heat exchanger, a gas analyzer, a heat meter, gas, water, and exhaust pipe systems, and a grid module for fault-free connection to a local grid operator. The prototype is installed in the location’s outdoor area and housed in a container for protection. The electrical installation was planned and built by a team that included the Dutch specialist Van Halteren Technologies (previously part of Bosch Rexroth).
The first integrated SOFC pilot system is an important milestone on the path to successful industrialization. At the same time, it paves the way to an even more energy-efficient power supply for our Wernau factory. UWE WILD