Hydrogen-powered forklifts blasting off

Hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts are getting a lift from companies that expect the prospect of reducing total plant floor logistics costs will lead to their widespread use.

By Ken Schnepf, Managing Editor

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Hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts are getting a lift from companies that expect the prospect of reducing total plant floor logistics costs will lead to their widespread use. Two separate hydrogen-powered lift truck efforts are underway, aimed at demonstrating lower fuel consumption and reduced maintenance.
Toyota Material Handling, U.S.A., Inc. (TMHU) displayed a prototype of its fuel cell lift truck at ProMat 2007 in February. The prototype, called the Toyota FCHV-F, was developed by Toyota Industries Corporation (TICO) in cooperation with Toyota Motor Corp. (TMC).

“Standardization in the widespread use of fuel cells in lift trucks is extremely important to drive down costs, ,” explains Marty Boyd, Toyota national product planning manager. “The first step has been for OEMs to partner with existing fuel cell suppliers such as Cellex Power (Crown), Hydrogenics (Hyster), General Hydrogen (Raymond), etc. As this continues to happen, the cost should come down to where individual OEMs might decide to foster their current relationships to come up with an integral fuel cell/lift truck design.”

Meanwhile, Nuvera Fuel Cells, Cambridge, Mass, in late January, began supplying a PowerTap PTH-12 hydrogen refueling system to The Raymond Corp. to support working fuel cell-powered forklifts at its manufacturing facility in Greene, N.Y. The PowerTap PTH-12 will refuel a variety of fuel cell-powered forklift trucks in an indoor setting. The Raymond Corp. has been awarded a contract for $750,000 from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to research hydrogen fuel cell applications in electric lift trucks.

“Deployment of PowerTap PTH-12 with indoor dispensing represents a major step forward in the commercialization of hydrogen products for the material handling industry,” says Charlie Myers, Nuvera director of sales.

“The Raymond Corp. is committed to researching the application of hydrogen as an alternate method for storing energy on its forklift equipment,” says Michael Field, Raymond vice president, research and development.

Fuel cell lift trucks require minimal refilling and significantly less maintenance than conventional electric lift trucks, whose batteries require periodic charging, refilling with water, and replacement. In addition, the fuel cell hybrid system ensures constant power delivery and performance, eliminating reduced voltage output as batteries discharge, says Boyd. These and other features make fuel cell lift trucks well suited to conditions such as those found at large distribution centers, where lift trucks often run continuously.

Individual plants can establish their own hydrogen fueling stations, adds Myers. Adoption of fuel cell-powered lift trucks effectively reduces total logistics costs.

“The fuel cells are interchangeable with an existing electric battery, but you never have to swap it out,” says Gus Block, Nuvera director of business development. “You no longer need floor space for battery charging. You do need a hydrogen charging area outside the building.”

Zero-Emission products are a must for the industrial equipment market, says Boyd. During the past 30 to 40 years, the industrial equipment market has used batteries for zero-emission trucks. Hydrogen fuel cells will provide an alternative zero-emission power source for industrial trucks with longer run time, constant power supply for stable voltage levels, quick refueling, and elimination of battery rooms. These benefits will significantly increase productivity in large distribution centers that commonly run two and three shifts. Fuel cells can run as long as an entire shift on a charge, depending on how the lift truck is used.

Safety shouldn’t be a concern. “I believe it’s not more or less safe. It’s people’s perception of hydrogen,” explains Myers. “It’s a very safe gas to work around. We have not found it to be a major issue when working with codes and standards.” Like other fuel sources, hydrogen handling and storage must conform to AFME standards, and UL has issued a standard (http://ulstandardsinfonet.ul.com/scopes/2267.html), adds Block.

There are plenty of online resources to get more detailed information about hydrogen fuel cells. An overview of hydrogen fuel cells is offered at www.cmt.anl.gov/Science_and_Technology/Fuel_Cells/Publications/Hydrogen_Fuel_Cells.pdf.

The U.S. Department of Energy has hydrogen safety training information available at www.hydrogen.energy.gov/firstresponders. For an overview of hydrogen supply for industrial processes, visit www.plantservices.com/articles/2002/137.html.

E-mail Managing Editor Ken Schnepf at kschnepf@putman.net.

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