Fuel cell use in the logistics industry

forklift
Toyota forklift truck, © Toyota

The good news is that fuel cells for materials handling equipment are no longer confined to a niche market. Entire warehouses in North America are currently being served by hydrogen-powered forklift trucks. This type of fuel cell application is also becoming increasingly popular in Asia and Europe, but their logistics industries will have some catching up to do.

Plug Power, based in Latham, New York, is one of the leaders in the development of fuel cell equipment for the materials handling market. From the United States, it delivers forklift trucks powered by the technology to all corners of the globe. For example, in late October 2017, it received an order from Toyota Material Handling Norway to ship GenDrive systems to Trondheim, where Nel ASA electrolyzers produce solar-sourced hydrogen at Norwegian wholesaler Asko. And Asko is thinking about whether to retrofit its fleet of trucks as well (see H2-international January 2018, p. 28).

Other manufacturers are planning to create similar product lines. Another stateside supplier, Hyster, announced last fall at TOC Europe in Amsterdam, Netherlands, that it would soon be able to supply a heavy-duty forklift truck for loads of up to 48 tons. This kind of lifting capacity has always been a diesel-only domain, but that is about to change. Jan Willem van den Brand, Hyster’s director of Big Truck Product Strategy & Solutions, said that “initial introductions are likely to be based on lithium-ion batteries.” However, the company would eventually offer three options – a small or medium battery combined with a Nuvera fuel cell or a battery-only solution. “This truck is being developed in response to the evolving needs of customers, who are increasingly demanding zero-emission trucks to support their environmental goals, while still specifying the right truck for their particular application needs,” he said.

At the LogiMAT show in Stuttgart, Germany, the vice president of Hyster-Yale Group, Ian Melhuish, told the Logistik Heute magazine that “fuel cell-powered forklift trucks will be playing a more vital role in intralogistics than some people think.” He stressed that Nacco Materials Handling Group, whose products are mainly marketed under the Hyster and Yale brands, had made the right strategic decision when buying fuel cell manufacturer Nuvera in 2014. Hyster had been receiving many requests for fuel cell forklifts both from the United States and Europe and particularly from automotive customers.

Toyota leads the way – again

Additionally, several Japanese corporations, including Iwatani, Toshiba, Toyota Motor, Toyota Industries, Toyota Turbine and Systems, and Japan Environment Systems, have created a coalition to launch a comprehensive program for hydrogen supply in Yokohama and …

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