Sustainable material flow – Fuel cell use in the logistics industry

13.11.2017

The good news is that fuel cells for materials handling equipment are no longer confined to a niche market. Entire warehouses in North America are currently being served by hydrogen-powered forklift trucks. This type of fuel cell application is also becoming increasingly popular in Asia and Europe, but their logistics industries will have some catching up to do.

Plug Power, based in Latham, New York, is one of the leaders in the development of fuel cell equipment for the materials handling market. From the United States, it delivers forklift trucks powered by the technology to all corners of the globe. For example, in late October 2017, it received an order from Toyota Material Handling Norway to ship GenDrive systems to Trondheim, where Nel ASA electrolyzers produce solar-sourced hydrogen at Norwegian wholesaler Asko. And Asko is thinking about whether to retrofit its fleet of trucks as well (see H2 International, 1-2018, p. 32).

Other manufacturers are planning to create similar product lines. Another stateside supplier, Hyster, announced last fall at TOC Europe in Amsterdam, Netherlands, that it would soon be able to supply a heavy-duty forklift truck for loads of up to 48 tons. This kind of lifting capacity has always been a diesel-only domain, but that is about to change. Jan Willem van den Brand, Hyster’s director of Big Truck Product Strategy & Solutions, said that “initial introductions are likely to be based on lithium-ion batteries.” However, the company would eventually offer three options – a small or medium battery combined with a Nuvera fuel cell in a Toshiba-made electrolyzer, type H2One™, at 10 normal cubic meters per hour. It is then compressed and stored before being delivered by truck inside two 300-liter tanks at 450 bars, or 6,500 psi, to a fruit and vegetable market, to a factory and to warehouses, where it powers the 12 fuel cell forklifts (see fig. 1). Energy that isn’t immediately required will go into a stationary accumulator made from 180 discarded batteries that used to supply energy in Toyota Mirai models. Project start was July 12, 2017. As early as March 2016, Toyota had already showcased a fuel cell forklift design. Since January last year, two trucks of this type have been roaming the halls of the Motomachi Plant in Toyota City. They are part of an initiative by the Japanese environment and transportation ministries to promote fuel cells for use in industrial vehicles. Toyota’s management is planning to have up to 180 fuel cell forklifts in operation by 2020. South African platinum producer Implats is yet another business intent on switching over to fuel cells. It has been using forklift trucks equipped with the technology since 2016 and has likewise been testing a load haul dump loader for underground mining activities. It was reported that a working prototype of the new vehicle would be used in day-today operations as early as last year. Compared to their diesel- powered counterparts, electric load haul dump loaders produce no emissions and only half as much heat, making it possible to install a less sophisticated ventilation system in the tunnels. This project is part of the Impala Fuel Cell Development Roadmap, a collaborative effort supported by South Africa’s government. or a battery-only solution. “This truck is being developed in response to the evolving needs of customers, who are increasingly demanding zero-emission trucks to support their environmental goals, while still specifying the right truck for their particular application needs,” he said.

At the LogiMAT show in Stuttgart, Germany, the vice president of Hyster-Yale Group, Ian Melhuish, told the Logistik Heute magazine that “fuel cell-powered forklift trucks will be playing a more vital role in intralogistics than some people think.” He stressed that Nacco Materials Handling Group, whose products are mainly marketed under the Hyster and Yale brands, had made the right strategic decision when buying fuel cell manufacturer Nuvera in 2014. Hyster had been receiving many requests for fuel cell forklifts both from the United States and Europe and particularly from automotive customers.

Toyota leads the way – again

Additionally, several Japanese corporations, including Iwatani, Toshiba, Toyota Motor, Toyota Industries, Toyota Turbine and Systems, and Japan Environment Systems, have created a coalition to launch a comprehensive program for hydrogen supply in Yokohama and Kawasaki. The objective is to implement and evaluate a low-carbon supply chain that creates renewable hydrogen in power plants along the Tokyo Bay for running a total of 12 fuel cell forklift trucks. The project is expected to cut their carbon dioxide emissions by around 80 percent. In Yokohama, the energy of a wind power plant called Hama Wing (see fig. 1 on p. 55) is used to produce hydrogenin a Toshiba-made electrolyzer, type H2One™, at 10 normal cubic meters per hour. It is then compressed and stored before being delivered by truck inside two 300-liter tanks at 450 bars, or 6,500 psi, to a fruit and vegetable market, to a factory and to warehouses, where it powers the 12 fuel cell forklifts (see fig. 1). Energy that isn’t immediately required will go into a stationary accumulator made from 180 discarded batteries that used to supply energy in Toyota Mirai models. Project start was July 12, 2017.

As early as March 2016, Toyota had already showcased a fuel cell forklift design. Since January last year, two trucks of this type have been roaming the halls of the Motomachi Plant in Toyota City. They are part of an initiative by the Japanese environment and transportation ministries to promote fuel cells for use in industrial vehicles. Toyota’s management is planning to have up to 180 fuel cell forklifts in operation by 2020.

South African platinum producer Implats is yet another business intent on switching over to fuel cells. It has been using forklift trucks equipped with the technology since 2016 and has likewise been testing a load haul dump loader for underground mining activities. It was reported that a working prototype of the new vehicle would be used in day-today operations as early as last year. Compared to their diesel- powered counterparts, electric load haul dump loaders produce no emissions and only half as much heat, making it possible to install a less sophisticated ventilation system in the tunnels. This project is part of the Impala Fuel Cell Development Roadmap, a collaborative effort supported by South Africa’s government.

EU Projects

In past years, it was HyLift-Europe that provided the biggest impetus for forklift truck development across the continent. Around a dozen companies entered into collaboration in 2013 to implement about 200 fuel cell systems, and their refueling infrastructure, at 10 to 20 materials handling sites.

So far, the biggest success stories coming out of this EUR 9.3 million project have been the 46 vehicles operating at Prelocentre in Saint-Cyr-en-Val, near Orléans, in France, and a binding agreement about another 35-strong fleet of vehicles, a number that is expected to rise to 150. HyLift’s coordinator, Hubert Landinger from Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik, told H2-international that the project hadn’t led to as many sites as planned because interim results had shown that, if at all, only large-scale fleet operation made economic sense.

“Right now, you can’t be competitive without some sort of financial support. We will need new funding measures to promote the technology until the market can continue on its own.” He had been in talks with government officials before the end of last year to try to persuade them to extend HyLift-Europe for another 12 months.

A second EU venture to develop and scale forklift fuel cell components is Inline. Its EUR 3.2 million budget is said to be used for the design of a fuel tank and a control valve. Both components are still difficult to manufacture and are currently preventing further advances in production. The collaboration between Fronius, Profactor and others is planned to result in a completely scalable product line to manufacture fuel cell systems at a faster pace.

Artikel H2 International,  01.2018

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