Nissan Powers Tug Fleet With Methanol Fuel Cells

Aug. 25, 2009
Nissan North America is using methanol fuel cells to power material handling equipment at its Smyrna, Tenn., assembly plant.

After completing a successful 18-month trial, the automaker elected to use OorjaPac methanol fuel cells from Fremont, Calif.-based Oorja Protonics on a permanent basis. The fuel cells will power 60 tugs as they transport thousands of vehicle parts throughout the 5.4-million-square foot facility.

“Nissan is constantly looking at the impact our business activities have on the environment, and at the same time, how we can become more efficient,” says Mark Sorgi, manager of material handling. “The fuel cells that are fueled by methanol are helping us in both areas by reducing our CO2 emissions and better utilizing our resources.”

The facility will no longer need the 70-plus electric battery chargers that consume almost 540,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. Oorja Protonics says Nissan will cut its electric bill as well as eliminate more than 300 tons of CO2 emissions. In addition, the fuel cells provide a constant charge, putting less strain on the electrical systems of the tugs. This helps increase the life of the batteries and other electrical parts, according to Oorja Protonics.

“The methanol fuel cells have made us more productive by saving us almost 35 hours a day that were spent by employees changing out batteries,” says Sorgi. “There’s no changing out of low or dead batteries, which involves a battery technician and 15 to 20 minutes. Now, the tug driver can refill the fuel cell in less than one minute, and they’re on their way.”

Nissan was able to move battery technicians to other value-added positions in the plant and reassign four material handlers, thanks to better use of the automaker’s workforce.

Oorja Protonics explains that methanol is derived from various sources, including wood, grass, landfills, natural gas and coal. Fuel cells generate electricity by converting the chemical energy stored in a fuel into electrical and thermal energy. The byproducts of the electrochemical reaction are water and heat.