BMW Turns to Hydrogen Fuel Cells in S.C. Facility

Oct. 13, 2010
Fuel cells will power 85 pieces of material-handling equipment.

BMW is the latest in a growing list of automakers that are stretching use of alternative fuels beyond its consumer vehicle lineup and into production processes. The German automaker announced Oct. 12 it will use hydrogen fuel cells for material-handling equipment in its newest South Carolina assembly plant where the BMW X3 is manufactured.

An initial fleet of 85 vehicles BMW uses to move goods and equipment throughout the Spartanburg plant, including lift trucks, tuggers and stackers, will use the fuel cell technology. According to the company, the only waste produced by fuel cells is heat and water, making it a significantly more efficient and environmentally-friendly option.

BMW has set up six on-site fueling stations spread across the facility, which would only need 20 minutes in order to completely recharge a cell.

Fuel cells are generally considered more efficient than batteries due to the steady rate of power level. While batteries tend to run slower the more depleted they are, hydrogen fuel cells can maintain the same level of power, even as the tank approaches empty.

BMW estimates it would have taken 1.8 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year to charge a battery-powered fleet.

Nissan and Toyota have aggressively used hydrogen fuel cells in its material handling operations, as has Wal-Mart.

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