Progress with Fuel Cell-Powered Forklifts

Toyota's FCHV-F fuel cell lift truck.


A hydrogen fuel cell within a Raymond forklift.


With the goal of studying performance of hydrogen fuel cells in electric forklifts and to demonstrate the safety of a hydrogen-fueled forklift environment, Raymond Corp., Green, NY, www.raymondcorp.com, has received a $750,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The company will also develop the infrastructure for an indoor fast-fill hydrogen refueling system.

In a presentation, Steve Medwin, Raymond's manager of advanced research, points out that hydrogen fuel cell technology in forklifts offers higher productivity because there's no need to change batteries. Refueling can be accomplished in as little as one to five minutes. Other benefits include delivery of constant voltage with no drop toward the end of a shift or in cold storage and no emissions because the only byproducts are water and heat.

With its research contract Raymond is now getting underway with its two-year demonstration project that will include a permanent indoor hydrogen dispenser and multiple battery replacement units from multiple suppliers. In thinking of the future, Raymond foresees significant commercial sales of hydrogen-fueled forklifts beginning as soon as 2008-2009.

One company looking to bring a fuel cell lift truck to market in the next few years is Toyota. In January at ProMat 2007, the material handling industry's big, every other year show, the manufacturer revealed a new prototype of a fuel cell lift truck. The FCHV-F was developed to significantly reduce emissions. Overall operating costs of the truck are lowered through reduced fuel consumption and overall lower maintenance. Toyota engineers think such a truck will deliver a return on investment in large distribution centers where lift trucks often run on continual 24 hour shifts.

In a joint project with battery manufacturer East Penn Manufacturing Company, Inc. (Lyon Station, Pa.), Nuvera Fuel Cells, Inc. (Cambridge, Mass.) has installed its first hydrogen generation system at East Penn's DC in Topton, Pa. Hydrogen generated by the system is powering a fleet of fuel cell-powered forklift trucks in the plant. This system is part of a field test of the two companies' ReadyPower unit, which combines Nuvera's fuel cell technology with East Penn's lead-acid battery design.

The hydrogen generation system, known as "PowerTap," consists of a hydrogen generation unit, and a cascade storage system, compressor and indoor dispenser. The modular design allows for customized solutions while simplifying the installation process.

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