The use of fuel cell forklifts offers substantial advantages over the use of established technologies in the warehouse industry. In this article, we present 5 major benefits of the hydrogen fuel-cell combination for the operation of forklifts.
1 – A healthier environment
The first benefit of operating a forklift truck for the operator and his entourage is about the global environment. Firstly, air quality improves significantly as no CO2, toxic gases or fine particles are released. As a result, there is no need to run ventilation inside the warehouse which may be necessary with other forklift technologies.
The second advantage is also of an environmental nature as it relates to the reduction of noise pollution in the working environment. Indeed, the combination of the fuel cell with an electric motor results in less noise exposure during the operation of the machine.
Finally, the inherent risk in the use of fuel cells is much lower than with conventional battery-powered forklifts. This is because forklift operators are not exposed to potential toxic substance leaks, regular changes of heavy batteries are avoided, and there would be fewer shutdowns related to these dangerous or accident-prone situations.
At many levels, it is a healthier working environment in the warehouse.
2 – Increased productivity
Compared to conventional technologies, there are significant productivity gains when using a fuel cell forklift.
In terms of performance, this technology enables a high level of continuous performance regardless of the usage or storage conditions. Fuel cells work equally well indoors, outdoors, or in refrigerated conditions unlike conventional batteries which lose power when not fully charged or when exposed to cold weather. They only need to be supplied with hydrogen to operate at full power.
Refilling hydrogen forklifts takes several minutes in contrast with conventional battery-powered forklifts which take several hours to recharge and may not last an entire shift. Hydrogen forklifts offer lower downtime which gives operators more valuable time and improves the ability to forecast recharge demand and capacity at the warehouse.
3 – Lower operational costs
The operational costs associated with the use of a fuel cell can be advantageous in many cases. Let’s consider the costs of purchasing new equipment and the fixed costs of installing a new hydrogen terminal.
Firstly, the longevity of the fuel cells means they have to be replaced less frequently. If we compare this with battery technology, we don’t only see cost savings related to the non-replacement of the batteries themselves, but also savings related to purchasing chargers. Secondly, while the installation of new charging stations is an essential part of the investment, its compact size limits the loss of useful commercial space. It can also be installed indoors or outdoors.
The variable operating costs are significantly cut down with fuel-cell technology. There is a significant cost savings due to reduced maintenance compared to internal combustion forklifts as well as savings that can be induced by the carbon tax. Hydrogen-powered forklifts do not contribute to peak loads to the electrical grid unlike battery-powered forklifts that must be recharged regularly and for long hours. In the end, a two-rate electricity bill is saved, one indexed on the regular consumption rate and the other during the peak demand rate. This will also relieve the electrical network when critical load periods.
Additional savings are made due to the productivity gains mentioned above as well as lower intangible costs due to a healthier environment for the operators.
As noted in the TCO analyses of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the United States, or the consulting firms Deloitte or Roland Berger, fuel cell technology is already operationally competitive.
4 – Additional commercial space
In the absence of large battery charging stations, the saved space can be used for commercial storage. Further, since hydrogen forklifts perform well in outdoor conditions and cold weather, a charging station can be installed outdoors. This saves space, time, money, and ease of a process for warehouse users.
5 – A proven record of success for hydrogen forklifts
Around the world, the results of case studies of warehouses that have adopted hydrogen forklift operations prove that it is a sustainable solution that meets the needs of the industry.
The partnerships between Plug Power (a fuel cell manufacturer) with large players in the retail, distribution and automotive industries are delivering results; 12,000 fuel cell forklifts deployed with over 40 customers across North America and Europe. Examples include Walmart, Carrefour, BMW, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble, all of whom are putting forward the above-mentioned conversion arguments. After more than 110 million hours of accumulated operation, a significant portion of customers have either expanded their current fleet or deployed additional sites elsewhere. No company has ever returned to using lead acid batteries. (Source : Plug Power)
Similar positive results can be found with the manufacturer Linde in Europe and their automotive clients. Whether it is the environmental or operational argument that motivates conversion to hydrogen, companies express their satisfaction with the use of this technology. More details can be found in the in-depth economic and technical opportunity studies under the names “H2IntraDrive” and “FFZ70.”
According to Ballard (Canadian fuel cell manufacturer), Walmart Canada expects the hydrogen fuel cell forklift fleet to reduce operating costs by $1.1 million over seven years, compared to using battery forklifts. The forklift fleet avoids 530 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.
Hydrolux, the chicken or the egg?
The partners who approach us share the same conclusion; while fuel cell forklift technology is already ready and viable, there is a lack of green hydrogen supply available at reasonable prices. Hydrolux addresses this need by offering a turnkey, affordable green hydrogen solution. Through AI-driven demand management, it is a virtual pipeline for companies to continuously fuel their forklift fleets.
Finally, Hydrolux acts as an advisor in the implementation of this turnkey solution. Further, the right solution and the associated investments may be developed individually for each company. For this purpose, there are a number of prerequisites for economical and efficient use. These include:
- The size of the fleet. As a rule of thumb, a fleet of 10 or more forklifts will qualify for a good cost-efficiency analysis
- The location of the warehouses
In each case, we can provide our expertise in the adoption of these new technologies and highlight the benefits and savings of green hydrogen and its applications.
- An Evaluation of the Total Cost of Ownership of Fuel Cell Powered Material Handling. Todd Ramsden. NREL
- PlugPower. Top 7 reasons to convert to hydrogen fuel cell power in your material handling operations.
- Ballard. Fuel cell zero-emission forklift fleet at Walmart Canada.
- Fueling the Future of Mobility. Hydrogen and fuel cell solutions for transportation. Deloitte. Ballard.
- Development of Business Cases for Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Applications for Regions and Cities.
Roland Berger. FCH. 2017