Fuel Cells In The Warehouse

Fuel Cells In The Warehouse

Technology offers cleaner operations, lower maintenance costs and shorter fueling times.

The buzz at last month's ProMat show in Chicago was on a type of material handling innovation that doesn't actually exist yet: fuel cell-powered lift trucks. At least two major lift truck manufacturers -- Toyota Material Handling U.S.A. Inc. and Raymond Corp. -- are developing fork lifts powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Raymond was recently awarded a $750,000 contract from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to research hydrogen fuel cell applications, while Toyota displayed a prototype of what one of these vehicles could look like, dubbed the FCHV-F (Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle).

Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. recently conducted a trial of fuel cell-powered lift trucks at two of its distribution centers in Ohio, which in effect was a test of technology developed by Cellex Power Products Inc., running on pallet trucks from Crown Equipment Corp. and Nissan Barrett.

Toyota's prototype Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle
The principal attractions to fuel cell technology in a warehousing environment include cleaner operations (the byproducts from hydrogen are water and heat), lower maintenance costs and shorter fueling times. The drawback at present is the investment required to install hydrogen fueling stations, which is why large distribution centers are seen as the likeliest customers in the short-term. The most optimistic predictions estimate that fuel cell-powered lift trucks could enter the market within two to five years.

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