Future looks bright for fuel cells

Although hydrogen fuel cell technology is already available, it has not yet been widely adopted as a practical power source, largely due to cost issues. However, recent successful field tests in Canada bode well for the fuel cell's future.

The Government of Canada has created a foundation, Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) (www.sdtc.ca), that operates on a CAN$550 million fund to support development and demonstration of clean technologies that address issues of climate change, clean air, water and soil quality. Figures indicate that industrial vehicles produce almost 13% of all global transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.

As part of a CAN$2 million grant from SDTC, Cellex Power Products Inc. (www.cellexpower.com) has developed and demonstrated a zero-emission, 24-volt, fuel cell power solution designed to replace industrial lead acid batteries and internal combustion engines used to power forklifts.

The field trial was conducted at a facilityof Canadian retailer London Drugs, using four Cellex units to power rider pallet trucks and including on-site hydrogen fueling. The fuel cell units reportedly ran longer than batteries, refueled more quickly than swapping out batteries, and ran the pallet trucks at a more consistent maximum power.

At another hydrogen fuel cell demonstration, supported in part with CAN$1.45 million from SDTC, General Motors of Canada (www.gm.com) and Hydrogenics Corp. (www.hydrogenics.com) showed that a fuel cell-powered forklift supported by an on-site fuelling station — the Hydrogenics HyLYZER — can work. The HyLYZER produces variable amounts of hydrogen to fill specific requirements and is compact enough to move from one site to another.

"We believe one of the first commercial uses for hydrogen powered vehicles will be in industrial vehicle fleets, such as forklifts, where dedicated on-site refueling stations can meet immediate refueling needs," says Pierre Rivard, Hydrogenics' president and CEO. Since fuel cell-powered forklifts produce no exhaust emissions, Rivard notes, they're well suited for indoor facilities, such as factories and warehouses.

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