According to the press, fuel cells are a thing of the future and for some applications that is true.
Power supplies in aircraft and to provide power in remote regions fuel cells have been used for some time.
The big future for automobile applications is still out there. Not because we don’t know how to
make fuel cells, but we don’t know how to make and distrbute enough hydrogen to make it economically feasable.
Material handling has been identified as a market where fuel cells can be applied right now.
Replacing batteries in industrial hand trucks with fuel cells is a reality.
The two main advantages are:
1. No cumbersome replacement of batteries. ( 20-30 minutes/shift)
2. No charging facilities and duplicate batteries are needed.
A fuel cell requires less than 5 minutes per shift to refill the hydrogen tank. Small, dedicated hydrogen storage
and dispensing facilities are easy to install.
One draw back when replacing batteries with fuel cells on existing lift trucks is the low weight of fuel cells. The weight of a lead-acid battery is
part of the counter balance in lift trucks. To replace this weight requires some knowledge of truck design to make sure that
the center of gravity of the truck is not changed.
Hand trucks and straddle designs do not have this limitation and a number of companies, such as WalMart are in the process
of switching to fuel cells of all the walkies in their warehouses and DCs.
Manufacturers of fuel cell replacements for batteries are:
Hydrogenics Corp ( hydrogenics.com ),
Plug Power, Inc. ( plugpower.com ),
Nuvera Fuel Cells, Inc ( nuvera.com )
Oorja Protonics, Inc ( oorjaprotonics.com )
All lift truck manufacturers have programs and joint ventures to adopt fuel cells in place of lead-acid
batteries. Much of this work relates to the economic production of hydrogen right in the user’s facility. Another goal is to Go Green and replace internal combustion engines with a device that emmits only water.
Tests conducted have shown that braking distances, lift and travel speeds of fuel cells are similar to current electric truck performance.