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Lift Trucks Get Cleaner and Greener

Jan. 1, 2008
Thanks to ultra-low emissions, reduced waste and productivity benefits, electric, clean IC and fuel-cell-powered lift trucks are coming of age.

In a world in which the word “green” is splashed all over newsstands, broadcasted over radio waves and projected into every living room with a television set, it’s hard not to be aware of environmental issues. The high price of oil, coupled with worldwide concerns about global warming and pollution, are causing leaders all over the planet to investigate renewable, environmentally friendly sources of energy.

Lift truck manufacturers—and their manufacturing and warehousing customers—are no exception.

In fact, Brett Wood, vice president of marketing, product and strategic planning and training operations at Toyota Material Handling USA (TMHU, Irvine, Calif.), says there is a green awareness in the material handling industry that he hasn’t seen before. “Customers are asking us questions about emissions,” he says, and adds that he is “encouraged” so far by market acceptance of green lift trucks.

Local and federal tax incentives—offered for replacing older lift trucks with newer, cleaner models—may be driving some interest for those looking at the bottom line. Wood points out that the Railroad Commission of Texas recently earmarked $4 million in incentives for lift truck changeovers.

However, side benefits of going green—such as productivity, reduced operating costs and smaller vehicle designs—are also catching the attention of cost-conscious end users.

“The market has started investigating green lift trucks,” agrees Calvin Tanck, vice president of marketing at Hyster Co. “But, as there is no green standard or definition, this will be an evolutionary acceptance, as technologies that both improve productivity and enhance the bottom line will be delivered with better utilization of existing and future power sources.”

A Raymond fuel-cell-powered pallet truck charges up at an indoor refueling station.

First Stop: Electric
When many manufacturing and distribution facility managers consider the move to green, they first think about electric lift trucks. That’s a natural reaction. “Based on Industrial Truck Association (ITA) numbers, 56% of all lift trucks sold in the U.S. from January to November 2007 were electric powered,” says Wood.

There’s good reason for the growing demand for electric lift trucks. They do not produce emissions, such as carbon monoxide. They make little noise. And, they are generally smaller, so they can maneuver in narrow aisles.

That’s why the switch to electric is a “slightly growing trend,” Wood says, pointing out that zero emissions are the biggest benefit of electric lift trucks. “There will be more customers switching from internal combustion (IC) to electric in the future,” Wood states.

Clean IC
Still, Wood believes IC lift trucks shouldn’t be left out of the green game. In November 2006, TMHU launched its new 8-Series IC lift truck, powered by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or compressed natural gas (CNG) engines, which produce 70% less smog-forming emissions than allowed by current federal standards, according to Wood. The new trucks’ 4Y engines use closed-loop fuel systems that automatically adjust air-fuel mixture ratios. With the help of the lift trucks’ three-way catalytic mufflers, hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen and carbon-monoxide emissions are minimized, according to the company. As of this month, TMHU’s 8-Series diesel model meets EPA’s more-stringent Interim Tier 4 regulations, which result in 26% less particulate matter than the currently required 2008 Tier 3 standard.

Wood also says that TMHU is the only lift truck manufacturer in the world to offer a factory-installed, CNG fuel system option that is both UL listed and EPA and CARB certified. According to the California Energy Commission (Sacramento, Calif.), CNG-powered vehicles offer an average reduction in ozone-forming emissions of 80%, compared to gasoline engines. CNG is also readily available in the U.S., which can help reduce the nation’s dependence on imported fuels, according to TMHU.

“Toyota invested millions in research and testing, and the result is that we are meeting California’s 2010 emissions requirements three years early,” says Wood. All 8-Series lift trucks—3,000-lb to 6,500-lb models— are produced at the company’s ultra-green manufacturing facility in Columbus, Ind. (See sidebar for details about TMHU’s green plant.)

Hyster also offers low-emission IC lift trucks that are CARB 2010 compliant, according to Tanck. The company looks beyond fuel sources, too, to find other ways to reduce waste generated from operating lift trucks. For example, Tanck says Hyster was “an early innovator with AC technology, which offers better power usage and less parts wear.” In addition, “we see our advanced transmission technology as a way to reduce tire and brake wear, which corresponds to less waste.”

Toyota Material Handling USA showed its FCHV-F fuel-cell hydrogen-powered lift truck prototype at ProMat 2007.

Fuel Cells
Though electric lift trucks have zero emissions, there are still some drawbacks, including environmental hazards associated with the disposal of lead-acid batteries.

And, batteries take time to recharge, are prone to voltage drops as power discharges and cause downtime during battery changeouts, according to the U.S. Department of Energy Hydrogen Program (Washington), an organization dedicated to increasing adoption of fuel-cell technologies. The federal program offers a tax credit up to $1,000/kW for the use of fuel cells in material handling operations.

According to literature from the U.S. Department of Energy Hydrogen Program, “Fuel cells can be rapidly refueled, eliminating the time and cost associated with swapping batteries. The voltage delivered by the fuel cell is constant, as long as hydrogen fuel is supplied. Using fuel-cell-powered lift trucks can boost productivity by eliminating trips to the battery-changing station. And, with no chargers, battery storage or changing areas or equipment needed, more warehouse space is available.”

Knowing this, many lift truck manufacturers are taking their electric lift trucks up a notch on the green scale and looking at fuel cells. Water and heat are the only byproducts, according to Fuel Cells 2000 (Washington), a nonprofit outreach organization that promotes fuel cells and hydrogen.

“When using pure hydrogen as the fuel source, a fuel cell becomes a zeroemission energy source,” says Jennifer Gangi, program director at Fuel Cells 2000. “Warehouses and distribution centers can install their own hydrogen fueling station in house, and fuel-cell lift trucks only take between one to two minutes to refuel. Another option is to use mobile fuel trucks at a location, which ensures the mobility of gasoline and diesel vehicles and eliminates the need for central charging stations.”

Hydrogen is stored outside of Raymond Corp.'s Greene, N.Y., manufacturing plant as part of a two-year project testing hydrogen fuel cells in lift trucks.

Real-World Trials
Fuel cells are getting a lot of buzz these days, thanks to numerous trials being conducted right now by some of the biggest players in the material handling industry.

Three of the most recent, newsworthy trials include the Greater Columbia Fuel Cell Challenge; beta trials conducted by Plug Power Inc. (Latham, N.Y.) at two Ohio-based Wal-Mart distribution centers; and the Raymond Corp.’s (Greene, N.Y.) two-year study conducted in partnership with the New York Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA, Albany, N.Y.) and the New York State Power Authority (NYPA, White Plains, N.Y.).

The Greater Columbia Fuel Cell Challenge—a collaborative effort among the City of Columbia, S.C.; the University of South Carolina; EngenuitySC; and the South Carolina Research Authority—supports the deployment of fuel-cell and alternative energies through private-sector grants.

Last January, Hydrogenics Corp. (Mississauga, Ont.) and LiftOne (Columbia, S.C.), a division of Carolina Tractor, signed a distribution agreement and received funding from the Greater Columbia Fuel Cell Challenge to deploy hydrogen fuel-cell-powered lift trucks at several manufacturing facilities and distribution centers in the state. LiftOne agreed to market and service Hydrogenics’ HyPX fuel-cell power packs to dealers and distributors.

The lift trucks spent two to three weeks in the plants of five LiftOne customers in the Columbia area, according to Bill Ryan, vice president and general manager of LiftOne. “Besides being a clean technology, hydrogen fuel cells offered significant productivity benefits over other lift truck power options,” he says.

Those benefits included the elimination of battery rooms and charging equipment, according to Daryl Wilson, president and CEO of Hydrogenics. Plus, the fuel-cell power used in the plants provided continuous power for the duration of a shift.

In July, LiftOne installed two HyPX fuel-cell power packs in electric lift trucks manufactured by Linde Materials Handling (Summerville, S.C.). The trucks were deployed at Michelin’s Columbia tire plant and marked the first of six two-week trials at various facilities in the area.

Initial deployments for the South Carolina trials were expected to be completed by November; however, as of press time, preliminary results were not available.

Hydrogenics is conducting fuel-cell trials outside of South Carolina, as well. Last summer, Hydrogenics began a twoyear study of 19 fuel-cell-powered lift trucks at General Motors of Canada in Oshawa, Ont. Hyster is currently working with Hydrogenics on electric fuel-cell lift truck implementations at General Motors and FedEx, according to Tanck. Results are still pending.

Last January, Cellex Power Products Inc.—acquired in March by Plug Power—completed a four-month-long field test of 12 Cellex CX-P150 fuel-cellpowered rider pallet trucks at two Ohio Wal-Mart distribution centers. Working in continuous operation for more than 18,500 hours, the pallet trucks, supplied by Crown Equipment Corp. (New Bremen, Ohio) and Nissan Barrett (Marengo, Ill.), met and exceeded uptime, fueling, environmental and safety targets, Cellex reports. Pallet truck operators refueled the trucks more than 2,100 times. Refueling took less than two minutes per truck, and the indoor fuel-dispensing area required only 200 square feet of space, compared to 4,000 square feet for a lead-acid battery room, the company says.

“We really put these Cellex-powered vehicles to the test in our pallet truck applications, and they did the job,” says Johnnie Dobbs, Wal-Mart’s executive vice president of logistics and supply chain. “We now understand that, operationally, this new technology can be utilized in this application.”

For Wal-Mart, the proof was in the purchase. In December, the retail giant ordered Plug Power GenDrive fuel-cell power units for use in pallet trucks at its food distribution center in Washington Court House, Ohio. The fuel-cell units will replace the lead-acid batteries Wal- Mart had been using in its lift trucks.

And, finally, a two-year Raymond Corp. project that began January 2007 is currently testing the performance of hydrogen fuel cells in lift trucks in a realworld plant environment. Raymond’s Greene, N.Y., manufacturing plant is being used as a “living laboratory for fuel-cell technology,” said Chuck Pascarelli, vice president of sales and marketing at Raymond, at a Dec. 20 Webcast revealing preliminary results.

At a $1.2 million price tag, the Raymond project is the largest of 11 green projects being conducted in New York. The state has set a goal to reduce its energy use 15% by 2015, said Gunnar Walmet, program director of the Industry and Buildings Research and Development program at NYSERDA, during the presentation. NYSERDA awarded Raymond $750,000 for the research trial. “There is no single silver bullet that will replace fossil fuels,” he added. “We must look at a portfolio of solutions, one of which is hydrogen.”

“The life span of the fuel cells ranges from 7,500 to 10,000 hours,” said Jim Malvaso, president and CEO of Raymond, as he reported initial results. “Run time depends on the tank, but the average is about one and a half shifts.”

An indoor refueling station was installed in the Greene plant, and hydrogen is stored outside in a tube trailer. Once every few weeks, a new DOT-approved tube trailer arrives with more hydrogen. Steve Medwin, Raymond’s manager of advanced research, said one hydrogen dispenser has been adequate for the four fuel-cellpowered lift trucks currently operating in the 500,000-square foot Greene plant. A larger facility may want to consider multiple dispensers to shorten transit times, he added.

Real-world benefits are already becoming clear. “Busy warehouses usually use one battery per shift,” said Medwin. “Then, the battery needs to be swapped out, which takes time. That’s time the operator is not moving goods. With fuel-cell technology, the operator goes to a dispenser, and it only takes a minute or two to refuel.”

Other preliminary findings include:

• Braking distance and maximum travel and lift speeds are equivalent to those of battery-powered lift trucks.

• Refueling at an indoor hydrogen refueling station takes a couple of minutes, compared to 20 minutes or more to remove and replace a battery from the same truck model.

• Because batteries serve as part of the counterweight in lift trucks, additional weight must be added to a fuel-cell unit to compensate for the truck’s altered center of gravity.

Raymond added that future lift trucks may incorporate fuel cells directly into vehicle design (rather than just swapping a battery with a fuel cell) to address center of gravity, which is critical for stability and safety.

Interestingly, at ProMat 2007, TMHU showed a prototype of such a vehicle. The FCHV-F fuel-cell hydrogen-powered lift truck is completely designed around its fuel-cell power source. Using hydrogen, the prototype produces electricity without combustion and generates zero carbon-dioxide emissions, says TMHU.

That kind of lift truck is still a couple of years away from being commercially viable, according to Wood. However, TMHU is currently testing fuel-cell packs on electric lift trucks and plans to introduce a fuel-cell-powered lift truck soon.

Despite the material handling market’s evolving interest in green lift trucks, there will always be naysayers who claim the move to green is nothing more than one big publicity stunt by manufacturers and end users. However, if environmental— and bottom-line— benefits really do exist in the real world, does the underlying motivation matter?

Referring specifically to fuel cells, TMHU’s Wood says: “We will be selling lift trucks being powered by something different. That is exciting for us as an industry.”

Toyota’s Green TIEM
Toyota’s “Global Earth Charter” is deeply embedded into everything the company does, says Brett Wood, vice president of marketing, product and strategic planning and training operations at Toyota Material Handling USA Inc.—right down to lift truck manufacturing.

Wood says more than 80% of Toyota lift trucks sold in North America are manufactured at the Columbus, Ind., facility, known as Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (TIEM). The 870,000-square-foot TIEM plant is no ordinary manufacturing base. Since its opening in 1990, facility operations have been based on green goals written directly into Toyota’s corporate philosophy.

In November 1999, the facility earned ISO 14001 environmental management system certification, a voluntary standard that verifies a formal environmental policy, along with established mechanisms for continuous improvement. Since then, the plant has achieved a 33% reduction in volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions, 80% reduction in hazardous air pollutants (HAP), 40% reduction in energy consumption and 65% reduction in natural gas consumption.

“The Columbus plant is a zero-landfill facility,” adds Wood. Rather than dumping its trash at local landfills, Toyota has the waste transported to a fuelto- energy facility that helps power downtown Indianapolis.

TIEM is one of only 14 Indiana businesses inducted as a charter member of Indiana’s new Environmental Stewardship program. To be members, businesses must have good environmental track records and continue to make improvements in pollution prevention. TIEM is also a member of the Indiana Partners for Pollution Prevention (P2) organization, a voluntary program for Indiana businesses to benchmark and share their successes in environmental improvement. TIEM has also been honored with Indiana’s Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence for the past five years, according to Wood.

TIEM involves its associates in its environmental stewardship. Employees are encouraged to recycle paper, aluminum cans and toner cartridges, and all proceeds are donated to four charities, including local Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis and national Make a Wish Foundation (Phoenix).

In 2007, Toyota Material Handling started a partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation (Nebraska City, Neb.) that led to more than 20,000 new trees being planted across the country. “For every 8-Series lift truck delivered in 2007, we planted a tree through the Arbor Day Foundation,” says Wood. The commitment in 2008 extends to every Toyota lift truck delivered. “The number of trees we will plant in 2008 should rise to more than 30,000.”

For more information about green lift truck initiatives, contact any of the following sources:

U.S. Department of Energy Hydrogen Program, Washington,

Fuel Cells 2000, Washington,

Industrial Truck Association, Washington,

California Energy Commission, Sacramento, Calif.,

Toyota Material Handling USA Inc., Irvine, Calif.,

Raymond Corp., Greene, N.Y.,

New York Energy Research and Development Authority, Albany, N.Y.,

New York State Power Authority, White Plains, N.Y.,

Hyster Co., Greenville, N.C.,

Crown Equipment Corp., New Bremen, Ohio,

Nissan Barrett, Marengo, Ill.,

Greater Columbia Fuel Cell Challenge, Columbia, S.C.,

Hydrogenics Corp., Mississauga, Ont.,

Plug Power Inc., Latham, N.Y.,

LiftOne, Columbia, S.C.,

Linde Material Handling, Summerville, S.C.,

ECOtality Inc., Scottsdale, Ariz.,

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