Material Handling Helps Power the Fuel Cell Industry

April 27, 2009
WASHINGTON-Purchases and promised purchases of fuel cell-powered lift trucks are providing a big boost to the industry.

Fuel Cells 2000, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, estimates there are 500 systems in operation at present around the world and that there are 500 orders for more on the way.

Jennifer Gangi, Fuel Cells 2000 program director, notes, “We’ve seen large purchases of fuel cell lift trucks from companies around the U.S., and substantial interest offshore. Customers are finding that fuel cells provide savings on several fronts—economic, environmental and workforce productivity. In other words, customers can save money by converting to fuel cells.”

Fuel Cells 2000 points out that the Department of Energy recently announced $41.9 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding that will help support the immediate deployment of fuel cell lift trucks around the country. Companies that have already received funding for more than 200 lift trucks include Anheuser-Busch, Sysco, Genco and East Penn Manufacturing. There is also a federal tax credit to make the transition more attractive—$3,000 per kilowatt tax credit for purchase of the fuel cell and a 30% credit for the cost of installing hydrogen infrastructure, up to $200,000.

A recent study by Argonne National Laboratory estimates that fuel cell lift trucks produce 63% less greenhouse gas emissions than battery systems, but that’s not the only savings, claims Fuel Cells 2000. Batteries are heavy and take up a lot of storage space while only providing up to six hours of run time. Fuel cells last more than twice as long (12-14 hours), and there is no need for battery storage and changing rooms, leaving more warehouse space for products, it argues. There are greatly reduced fueling times of one or two minutes by the lift truck operator compared to 20-30 minutes or more for each refill.