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United Natural Foods Installing Air Products’ Hydrogen Fueling Technology for 65 Fuel Cell Forklifts

United Natural Foods, Inc. is installing Air Products’ hydrogen fueling technology for the material handling market at its Sarasota, Florida distribution center. Air Products’ technology will fuel 65 fuel cell-powered lift trucks that will be mobilized at the distribution facility moving consumer goods on a daily basis.

The equipment for the 352,000 square-foot Sarasota facility, which serves as a regional distribution hub for customers in Southeastern United States, is targeted to be operational by the end of June 2010.

Air Products will supply the hydrogen as well as its compression, storage and two indoor hydrogen dispensing units. UNFI will add 29 new hydrogen fuel cell-powered lift trucks to its fleet and 36 existing lift trucks will be retrofitted to hydrogen fuel cell technology.

UNFI looked to this initiative to replace lead acid batteries and their associated charging equipment with hydrogen fuel cells as part of its culture of social responsibility and its commitment to using clean energy, as well as to improve efficiency, productivity and reliability.

By converting UNFI’s Sarasota lift truck fleet to hydrogen fuel cells, the company expects carbon emissions will be reduced by approximately 132 metric tons annually, an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of 35 automobiles.

There are several advantages to using hydrogen-powered forklifts and other material handling equipment, Air Products notes.

  • Hydrogen fuel cell-powered equipment needs refueling once or twice daily, depending on use. In contrast, traditional battery-powered equipment must be placed temporarily out of operation for battery replacement and required battery recharging approximately every four to six hours.

  • Hydrogen fuel cell-powered equipment provides consistent power strength during use and does not experience decreased performance or wear down as traditional lead-acid battery units do as they near a required battery change out or recharge time.

  • Hydrogen fuel cell forklifts are not adversely impacted by temperature or by operating in coolers and freezers, in comparison to traditional battery performance.

  • Hydrogen-powered fuel cell equipment eliminates lead-acid battery storage and disposal issues.

Air Products’ hydrogen fueling technology is currently being used to fuel more than 300 material handling vehicles including: fuel cell-powered pallet trucks at Wegmans Retail Service Center in Pottsville, Pa.; fuel cell-powered lift trucks at Central Grocers’ new distribution center in Joliet, Ill.; hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts at Nestlé Waters North America in Dallas, Tex.; hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts at the Defense Distribution Depot Susquehanna Pennsylvania in New Cumberland, Pa.; as well as hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts at several other customers in the United States.



Hydrogen FC forklifts have been around for years. There appears to be a reasonable niche for these devices.


Its my understanding that the Air Products company uses a very large electric compressor motor to separate the hydrogen from other gases. That means that although United Foods has other benefits from hydrogen forklifts, I really have to question their CO2 reductions. Best I can tell all they have done is move the CO2 production to another location. In fact, since every time energy is changed from one form to another there are significant losses,(second law of thermodynamics) and since this proposed hydrogen production requires one more energy form change,that is from electric to hydrogen and then to work, I believe it would naturally have a lot lower overall efficiency making it a far worse choice than the electric forklifts being replaced.


The efficiency may be lower but they don't have to wait 8 hours to recharge the batteries. Furthermore they claim that their fuel cells have a constant power output unlike lead acid batteries. If that's the case its definitely worth something.


Some produce warehouses have used air power to eliminate pollution. You can "recharge" these carts quickly as well.


So the polution and CO2 reduction is "in the warehouse", but maybe not overall.

And in AZ, the added humidity (of an FC would be fine.


Dont forget folks this is compared to a MASSIVE pile of LEAD ACID batteries... the charger for those isnt exactly eff and neither are the batteries.


The point is that if they are trying to reduce CO2 emissions and they really aren't and are actually increasing CO2 emissions at the power plant, then their claim of savings is bogus and should be exposed as such. It should also be noted that recharging forklift batteries is and has been a part of their process. It is done by having spare forklifts or batteries and swapping them out as needed. So, unless the fuel cell forklifts are cheaper than an equivalent number of battery forklifts(note it might take a few extra battery models) its still not a good deal. Finally, if they said they were testing the technology in hopes that one day hydrogen will be produced in an efficient manner or maybe through solar energy, that I could believe. It the meantime, their claims are an insult to any energy engineer.


With today's shallow understanding of science, it's probably all in looking green.

"Testing the technology" completes the illusion.

I am a bit perplexed by all the attention to H2, but it may actually have a big future in auto transportation.
I cannot see how, but it may.

It is more likey to be useful for special applications - such as this.


Its fairly simple realy.

For one thing the regs on disposal of lead batteries have changed.

For anouther the charging building needed for lead acid cells is huge and requires quite a few employies 24/7 AND quite the insurance policy what with all those massive lead batteries on rack after rack.

But again the space req... 3000 sq feet was what wallmart quoted for lead acid battery maintenance building. The fuel cell fill station and maintenance bay.. 200 sq feet.

And again remember lead acid isnt efficient it eats alot of power on charge up so these building consume ENOURMOUS amounts of power.

The h2 likely comes from nat gas and as such is far better then most nat gas power plants and the power grid and the low eff of lead acid cells in forklifts ANDand and and and...

It savesw alot of money alot of wasted space and it greatly improves the uptime of the trucks AND it does indeed lower co2. Specialy when you concider where the power for the battery charging currently comes from.

Sanity Chk

Ok, forget lead acid. Switch to Altairnano Li titanate batteries that recharge in 10 minutes and are good for 9000 cycles of 100% discharge. H2 is not the only alternative and it's not terribly economical.

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