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Why Hydrogen? Why Now? Hydrogen Addresses Fleet Operating Cost Concerns

Thursday, 7 May 2015 ( #717 )
PowerEdge® fuel cell drop-in replacement for lead-acid batteries
In the four years since the 2011 Forkliftaction News feature on alternative energy use in the material handling industry, fuel cell-powered electric forklifts have made significant inroads into warehouse, manufacturing, distribution and other facilities in the US because the benefits they offer are so compelling. For multi-shift operations that rely on battery changing and charging, these benefits include increased productivity, better use of indoor space, the avoidance of electric utility surcharges, low operating costs, and reduced carbon footprint.(1) NACCO Materials Handling Group, manufacturer of Yale® and Hyster®  lift trucks, acquired Nuvera Fuel Cells in 2014 because it believes that the use of hydrogen in fuel cells is a winning combination that offers tremendous value to many of its customers. Moreover, with the improved performance of electric trucks, ICE powered lift truck users can replace engine-driven equipment with electric models powered with a fuel cell solution such as the Nuvera PowerEdge®  battery box replacement shown here.

Example of an on-site hydrogen generator, the PowerTap® PT-50, capable of 50 kg/day hydrogen production.
Realizing the benefits of fuel cells depends on a secure and dedicated source of fuel. Nuvera’s PowerTap®  is a hydrogen generation appliance that enables the shift from batteries or engines to fuel cell power sources. Hydrogen, used to power fuel cell battery replacements like PowerEdge, is generated from natural gas and water on-site. The PowerTap generator is located outside the facility, freeing up valuable floor space previously taken up by the battery room and battery washing station. Hydrogen fuel dispensers are installed indoors at locations convenient for truck operators. Hydrogen dispensing is fast, typically just one to three minutes, and operators can refuel anytime, regardless of charge cycles. The result is efficient, zero-emissions operations. Customers using fuel cell battery replacements have increased fleet and labor utilization as a result of gained operational efficiencies, increased indoor facility
Fast fueling of a PowerEdge® in a Class I Yale® truck
space through the reduction of indoor power related equipment, and increased truck life by eliminating voltage decay and the resulting vehicle stress on electrical components. The shift in energy use enabled by hydrogen also allows facilities to eliminate peak demand electricity charges.  

Energy Markets Open to Wider Use of Hydrogen

The commercial availability of hydrogen fuel cells for industrial trucks and other motive applications coincides with a major shift in global energy markets from oil to natural gas. Due in part to the discovery of major shale plays, the Potential Gas Committee based at the Colorado School of Mines estimated that US gas reserves are 35% higher than previously thought, yielding a 100-plus year supply.(2)  This ‘shale gas revolution’ represents a turning point for clean and renewable energy, and fuel cells in particular, because it opens energy markets to the wider use of hydrogen fuel.

Whether produced on-site from PowerTap®  or at a remote industrial chemical plant, hydrogen is most commonly produced from natural gas and water through a process called steam methane reforming (SMR). SMR enables the use of hydrogen as a clean, efficient means of powering both on- and off-road electric drive vehicles. Like electricity, hydrogen can be made from multiple feedstocks, including renewables such as biomethane and solar electrolysis, resulting in near-zero emissions on a total fuel cycle basis. Although hydrogen has been used in internal combustion engines (ICEs) to produce power, fuel cells are about twice as efficient as ICEs and the only by-products are water and heat.

The increased use of natural gas for transportation, especially for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, is a major trend favoring users of hydrogen for industrial motive applications such as forklifts. A number of factors are driving natural gas vehicle fuel adoption, including a wider availability of natural gas, financial incentives from federal and state governments to promote the adoption of cleaner fuels, and the increased availability of natural gas refueling infrastructure in the U.S.(3,4)  Natural gas used for vehicles is forecast to cost less than half of diesel in the next three years, as shown in Figure 1. The environmental benefits of natural gas versus diesel compelled many Class 8 tractor-trailer operators at the twin Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to switch to natural gas when tighter emissions regulations went into effect in January 2012.(5)

Figure 1: Diesel and Natural Gas Price Spread Forecast for On-Road Use.(6)

Besides the economic benefit that low natural gas feedstock prices provide to hydrogen fuel consumers, the effect of co-locating refueling equipment for natural gas and hydrogen generation and refueling equipment is synergistic. A recent study by Sandia National Laboratory found that having both natural gas and hydrogen "at the same station could improve operational expenditures and also take advantage of common supply chains. Coupling these infrastructure economics with common equipment manufacturing for both vehicle and fuel supply technologies has the potential to create new business models that lower the cost and reduce the risk of both alternatives in tandem."(7)  Truck fleets running on natural gas have the ability to reform natural gas to operate fuel cell-powered forklifts, as well as possible future fuel cell products such as auxiliary power units (APUs) for transport refrigeration, ground support equipment, container handlers, and other applications.

Rendering of a typical outdoor PowerTap pad site. This example measures 51 ft x 56 ft (15.5 m x 17 m), with plenty of room for modular system expansion with a third generator.
On-Site Generation Enables Cost-Effective Hydrogen Supply

While 95% of the hydrogen produced in the U.S. today is from SMR at large production plants, the vast majority of which is delivered to nearby users (such as petroleum refineries and chemical process plants) by pipeline, on-site generation from SMR and electrolyzers is becoming accepted as an increasingly attractive option for users consuming less than 250 kg of hydrogen per day, a group that includes most of the largest fuel cell forklift adopters. On-site generation avoids the permitting issues associated with storing large quantities of hydrogen, eliminates the logistics burden of hydrogen deliveries, and is cost-effective compared with delivered hydrogen. Using an on-site SMR system such as PowerTap®, it is possible for fleet operators to install cost-effective hydrogen capability wherever natural gas is available. PowerEdge®  fuel cells use that efficient hydrogen capability to achieve fleet, labor, and facility benefits for operations struggling with the all-in costs of lead-acid battery infrastructure.

Please contact:
Nuvera Fuel Cells
Tel: (617) 245-7500
Email: send an email

129 Concord Road
Building 1
Billerica, MA 01821

Connect with Nuvera Fuel Cells

  1. "Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle Emissions: Percent Changes in Greenhouse Gas Emissions (relative to Baseline Gasoline Vehicles)." Alternative Fuels Data Center. U.S. Department of Energy. 24 October 2013. Web. 10 April 2015.
  2. Jad Mouawad, ‘Estimate Places Natural Gas Reserves 35% Higher,’ New York Times, June 17, 2009.
  4. Sandia National Laboratories, Transitioning the Transportation Sector: Exploring the Intersection of Hydrogen Fuel Cell and Natural Gas Vehicles, September 9, 2014.
  6. EIA Annual Energy Outlook, 2012.
  7. Sandia National Laboratory, p. 2.

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