Hydrogenics completes fuel cell powered forklift pilot

By staff November 3, 2005

Hydrogenics Corp. announced the successful completion of forklift field trials at GM of Canada’s car assembly plant in Oshawa and FedEx Canada’s “mission critical” logistics hub at Toronto International Airport.

Hydrogenics designed, built and integrated fuel cell hybrid power packs to replace the lead-acid batteries in two Class 1 Hyster 5,500-pound sit-rider forklifts provided by NACCO Materials Handling Group. The forklifts were placed into service at two indoor multi-shift operations to showcase the technical readiness of Hydrogenics’ fuel cell hybrid power pack and to verify the benefits and value propositions that can be offered to this market. In addition, Hydrogenics designed and built an indoor, PEM electrolyzer hydrogen refueler that was used to refuel the forklifts during the deployments.

“We gained real-world learning’s for this near term application as our forklifts operated full-time for three months in rigorous operations, with virtually no maintenance downtime. Just as important, they finished the trials at the same high level of performance as they began,” said Pierre Rivard, President and CEO, Hydrogenics. “By undertaking a project that demonstrated Hydrogenics’ uniqueness in being able to deploy world-class technologies and products in both fuel cells and hydrogen refueling, we have shown the kind of “end-to-end” solution Hydrogenics can offer to OEMs and future users of this emerging technology.”

Multi-shift indoor material handling operations face many challenges as a result of using forklifts that rely on lead-acid batteries. Battery management issues profoundly impact operations, including a marked decrease in forklift power prior to shift-end, loss of productivity due to battery change-out time and significant dedicated space and staffing for battery management. In addition, 24-hour operations require as many as three batteries per vehicle to cover the full shift rotation, contributing to ongoing capital cost infusions and battery disposal problems.

The field trials successfully addressed all of these battery limitations. Not only were the forklifts operating at full power at the beginning and end of each shift, they were also refueled by the forklift operators, as needed, in two minutes or less from Hydrogenics’ indoor refueling station.

“Hydrogenics is now able to go to forklift manufacturers and customers and demonstrate that we have a materials handling solution that will start paying for itself over the total life of forklift ownership, through operational efficiencies, productivity increases and fast, reliable refueling,” Rivard said. “We know that materials handling operations are starting to understand and quantify the value that a ‘fuel cell solution’ offers today, boding well for the future as costs continue to come down. We see this emerging business as a substantial growth area for Hydrogenics over the next three years.”

The multi-billion dollar annual forklift market is positioned as an early adopter of fuel cell technology. Initial adoption is anticipated in multi-shift indoor operations that deploy a fleet of material handling vehicles. This particular market, currently dominated by battery-powered electric platforms, is where Hydrogenics’ fuel cell hybrid power pack can offer a viable ‘plug and play’ alternative. More than 300,000 new battery-powered material handling vehicles are purchased globally every year.