Going green at ProMat 2017: hydrogen forklifts and other solutions

The material handling and logistics show's sustainability centre promoted energy efficiency, reusing materials and saving space.

Multiple savings with multiple hydrogen forklifts. PHOTO: AIR LIQUIDE GUILLEMIN/LUCAS

Canadian industry is under growing pressure to deal more aggressively with its carbon emissions. The Trudeau government is keen on levying a price for carbon and it’s pushing provinces without some kind of fee to apply a tax, or like Ontario and Quebec, set up a cap and trade program.

Every manufacturer is a carbon emitter regardless of intensity and whether it’s for environmental, altruistic, practical or public relations reasons, carbon action will play a bigger role in business strategy. An area that offers opportunities for carbon savings is material handling, which received some attention at ProMat 2017 in Chicago April 3 to 6.

One way companies operating forklift fleets in plants or distribution centres can reduce the size of their carbon footprint is by switching to hydrogen-powered vehicles. Most forklift manufacturers offer hydrogen-capable units and there are plenty of benefits, chief among them zero carbon emissions. Hydrogen gas combines with oxygen from the air to produce electricity, discharging only water.

Air Liquide, which supplies the hydrogen and delivery systems, showed ProMat attendees what’s involved.

Its hydrogen station has two modular components: the automatic refuelling control panel and the dispenser, which includes the tube and nozzle. Stations are installed in the heart of the facility’s logistics platform for fast recharging. They can be positioned in several strategic locations, rather than having the centralized hub that would service electric forklifts. This reduces travel time, which boosts productivity.

Switching to hydrogen forklifts also saves space. No need for storing heavy spare batteries operators would have to lug in and out of their vehicles.

Vehicles run longer and provide more consistent power because they don’t slow down like electrics, which lose 14% of their speed over the last half of the charge. And fuel cells last longer: about 10 years compared to five or six years for lead-acid batteries.

Air Liquide Canada (based in Montreal and part of the multinational Air Liquide Group based in France) supplied the hydrogen, filling station and infrastructure to power Walmart’s forklift fleet in Balzac, Alta. The retailer wanted an alternative to the traditional lead-acid batteries powering forklifts at its 400,000 square-foot perishable food distribution centre.

It put 95 Plug Power GenDrive units to work at the facility running on Ballard Power Systems FC VeloCity 9SSL and FCgen 1020 ALS fuel cells.

Noticeable benefits

The switch reduced operating costs by $1.1 million over seven years and the facility avoids 53,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year. Walmart now has 500 vehicles in operation in three facilities, which include distribution centres in Cornwall, Ont. and Bartlesville, Okla., with hydrogen systems managed by Air Liquide.

ProMat featured other useful sustainability solutions at its Sustainable Facility Solution Center that promote energy efficiency, reuse materials and saving space.

Here some highlights:

Lighting changeover. Foreverlamp, ( a supplier of “big lumen lighting” based in Los Angeles, makes LED replacement or new lighting for large spaces such as distribution facilities and plants. Its RS Series replaces 750- and 1,000-watt metal halide lamps, providing up to 52,000 lumens. GS, PS and HS versions cover 18,000 to 27,000 lumens compatible with 400 watts through 175-watt pulse and probe start ballasts. HB high-bay fixtures replace a 400-watt HID with a 60% energy cost savings compared to MH and HPS systems.

Cardboard redux. It’s all about reusing corrugated cardboard boxes at Box Latch Products, ( based in Pewaukee, Wis. The manufacturer makes plastic latches that slip between the openings to hold down the flaps. They replace the tape, glue and straps that destroy corrugate cardboard containers after a single use. The idea is to use the boxes several times, then recycle them. The company claims integrating the box latches saves 10% to 90% of material costs. This also saves a lot of worker wrangling of tape, glue and straps, plus it’s good for the environment. Every ton of cardboard box that’s reused saves nine cubic yards of landfill, 380 gallons of oil, 4,000 kilowatts of energy, 7,000 gallons of water and 17 trees, while reducing energy use by 64%, water by 58% and eliminates 60 pounds of air pollution.

Recover space. Storax America, ( a high-density storage partnership involving Storax Solutions (based in England) and Flexspace (Charleston, NC), tackles the efficiency issue with two products that help maximize storage space. The Poweracks mobile storage racking system employs a moving aisle, which provides direct access to every pallet location and greatly reduces the number of static access aisles required. The recovered space then converts to usable inventory space. A tunnel rack system leaves operators free to execute other tasks.

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