PLANT

Plug into hydrogen forklift power


May 13, 2010
by NOELLE STAPINSKY, FEATURES EDITOR

Plug Power hydrogen fuel-cell technology is an almost seamless retrofit to existing fleets of lift trucks.

Photo: Raymond

The need for improved energy efficiency and productivity in materials handling operations are making fuel cells look like an awfully good way to power lift trucks. This has inspired Raymond Corp., a manufacturer of electric lift trucks, to become an independent North American distributor of Plug Power GenDrive fuel-cell technology.

The Latham, NY company’s lift truck units use low-temperature (60 to 160 degrees C) proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells. Raymond, based in Greene, NY, will sell, rent or lease the technology; provide warranty and maintenance service; and distribute service parts across North America.

Why fuel cells? Materials handling operations need battery storage and charging rooms that take up a lot of valuable floor space and consume a great deal of electrical power. Many of them run multi-shift fleets 24-hours a day, which require multiple batteries and battery changeovers that take up to 20 minutes, potentially leading to production downtime.

Fuel-cell technology doesn’t need that much space. You do need refueling stations and the hydrogen that powers the fuel cells is typically stored in a large, outdoor tank.

“With a fuel cell, you never have to change it. You leave it in the dedicated truck and refuel it, which takes anywhere from one to five minutes,” says Warren Brower, product marketing manager for Plug Power. “There are a lot of productivity gains just by keeping the truck on the floor.”

Brower says Plug Power’s fuel cell units reduce CO2 emissions by 80% compared to lead acid batteries, and potentially improve productivity by 20 per cent.

Raymond has had an advanced research team exploring alternative energy options for several years. In 2006, it received a grant from New York State Energy and Research Development authority to create a research facility to focus on marrying fuel cell technology to its lift trucks.

“When you look at alternative energy sources, certainly one has to think of fuel cells,” says Chuck Pascarelli, Raymond’s executive vice-president of sales and marketing. “And with the advances that have been made with hydrogen fuel cells, it made a nice marriage [for our offerings].”

The GenDrive hydrogen units combine multiple fuel cells in stacks supplied by Burnaby, BC-based Ballard Power Systems Inc. These stacks are designed to produce the appropriate amount of power for specific applications.