Fuel cell batteries can provide a good alternative solution to wet cell batteries. They currently operate in some of the largest and most demanding material handling centers in North America and Europe and are a viable power solution. Fuel cells fit seamlessly into existing electric forklifts, pallet jacks, and other material handling truck fleets. Fuel cells allow businesses to streamline operations while maximizing fleet up-time and reducing greenhouse gas emissions within their facilities. Fuel cells may not be a fit for everyone, however, careful research can easily determine when their use is viable.
Here are a few considerations:
- Increased Productivity
Battery-powered lift trucks lose approximately 14% of their speed over the last half of the battery charge. Fuel cells maintain constant power at all times, keeping the vehicle running at full speed throughout the entire shift.
- Lower Operational Costs
The fuel cell solution eliminates the need to change, charge and manage batteries. The units run longer than lead-acid batteries and can be fueled in as little as two minutes, substantially reducing vehicle and personnel downtime. Labor normally used to charge batteries can be tasked with other important business objectives. Fueling the fuel cell is as simple as fueling a car.
- Zero Emissions
Safe. Clean. Efficient. The fuel cell solution produces no harmful emissions and eliminates the costs associated with handling and storing toxic materials.
- More Commercial Space
Compact fueling stations replace large battery charging rooms, freeing up valuable warehouse space for other purposes. Battery rooms are no longer needed. Approximately 7% of the distribution center is recovered to set up inventory and revenue-generating operations.
- Transparent Transition
Fuel cell units fit seamlessly into the space occupied by batteries on all lift trucks, making them a simple and cost-effective solution for customers to adopt.
Other Considerations would include:
- Hydrogen Supply
A stable supply of hydrogen needs to be available to run forklifts. If hydrogen is sourced from an external supplier, operations can be adversely affected when a delivery isn’t delivered resulting in extended forklift downtime.
- New Technology Cost and Availability
Due to hydrogen fuel cells being a relatively new technology the availability of equipment may not be widespread with limited manufacturers and suppliers. This lack of supply may also make the technology costs prohibitive to small operators who do not have the budget to cover the costs.
- Fleet Size and Operational Requirements
Fuel cells can cost up to five or six times more than a standard wet cell battery depending on the type of lift and size requirements. Operations that require forklift fleets of less than thirty lifts and operate less than three shifts per day may find it cost prohibitive to use hydrogen fuel cells. A case study may be required to show a proper ROI. The initial cost to set up hydrogen storage, piping infrastructure, and fuelling stations should be considered in a cost justification.
Hydrogen fuel cells provide a clean, zero-emission power solution that boosts productivity and reduces greenhouse gases. Depending on fleet sizes and potential high level production requirements, a fuel cell solution may be a good fit, especially if coupled with limited warehouse space where having large rooms for charging batteries is difficult to concede. For some, the newness of fuel cell technology, the availability of hydrogen and the cost requirements for smaller operations looking for a quick return on investment can be a deterrent. Although an ROI is possible, it might be found easier in labor versus other items such as capital costs, fuel savings, and in environmental items. If there is any interest in determining if fuel cells are a fit for your company, please contact us to help.