Nissan North America (NNA) has commercially deployed methanol fuel cell packs to power material handling equipment (tugs) at its Smyrna, Tenn., assembly plant. The methanol fuel cells from Oorja Protonics (earlier post) provide a more energy efficient and cost-effective battery-charging process for the 60 tugs that are used to transport thousands of vehicle parts throughout the 5.4 million-square-foot facility.
By using OorjaPac, Nissan is able to get rid of more than 70 electric battery chargers that were consuming almost 540,000 kWh of electricity annually. This will reduce Nissan’s electric bill and eliminate more than 300 tons of CO2 emissions that were being released into the atmosphere.
A direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) uses liquid methanol rather than hydrogen. Methanol (CH3OH) is mixed with water and fed directly to the fuel cell anode, where it is oxidized on a catalyst layer to form carbon dioxide, hydrogen ions (H+) and the electrons that travel through the external circuit as the electric output of the fuel cell. Positive ions (H+) are transported across the proton exchange membrane to the cathode where they react with oxygen to produce water, which is then recylcled for input with the methanol.
Nissan is retrofitting the 60 tugs with methanol fuel cells that are filled with methanol by the technicians who drive them. The fuel cell provides a constant charge that puts less strain on the tugs electrical system, increasing the life of the battery and other electrical parts.
The methanol fuel cells have made us more productive by saving us almost 35 hours a day that were spent by employees changing out batteries. There’s no changing out of low or dead batteries, which involves a battery technician and 15 to 20 minutes. Now the tug driver can refill the fuel cell in less than one minute and they’re on their way.—Mark Sorgi, manager, Material Handling
Since no batteries are exchanged and the drivers refuel the tugs themselves, some battery technicians have been moved to other positions in the plant. The time saved by not having to change batteries has created a more efficient material-handling operation, allowing Nissan to reassign four material handlers.
Nissan had trialed the OorjaPac systems for 18 months in the Smyrna plant, prior to the purchase.