The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award a total of $1.3 million to fuel cell manufacturers Nuvera and Plug Power ($650,000 apiece) a project testing the use of hydrogen fuel cell refrigeration units (transport refrigeration units, TRUs) in delivery trucks. The companies will provide matching funds and labor of their own. A team from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) led by Kriston Brooks will oversee and evaluate the two-year program.
This will be the first time that refrigerated trucks making deliveries have been equipped with a fuel cell, PNNL researchers believe.
The fuel cells will do the work normally done by a small diesel engine, which keeps the cargo at the proper temperature while the trucks are making deliveries. Each of the four trucks will still be equipped with a main diesel engine that actually powers the truck.
This is a great application for a fuel cell. A trailer refrigeration unit traditionally is powered by a small diesel engine or electric motor that drives compressors to provide cooling to the cargo. A fuel cell can potentially provide a clean, quiet and efficient alternative by powering the electric motor.—Kriston Brooks
Industry officials estimate that approximately 300,000 refrigerated trucks with TRUs are on the road in the United States. By replacing the small diesel engines with the more efficient fuel cell, users will see fuel savings of approximately 10 gallons a day per unit and roughly 101 kg of CO2, in addition to reduced emission of pollutants and significantly quieter operation.
In one project, Nuvera will work with Thermo King to develop the refrigeration unit to keep the truck cool using Nuvera’s Orion fuel cell stack. Orion stacks range in output from 10 to 300 kW, and feature metallic bipolar plates and an open flow field, increasing the active area of each cell MEA (membrane electrode assembly).
That truck will make deliveries for a Sysco Corp. food distribution facility in Riverside, Calif., and for a San Antonio, Texas, food distribution center for the H-E-B grocery store chain.
In the other project, Plug Power will work with Carrier Transicold and Air Products to equip trucks making deliveries for a Sysco Corp. food distribution facility on Long Island. The trucks will be equipped with Plug Power’s GenDrive fuel cell product.
Both the Sysco and the H-E-B facilities already use forklifts powered by hydrogen fuel cells, part of a trend fostered by DOE to increase the use of the technology in industry. At both companies, the infrastructure to provide hydrogen for the fuel cells is already in place; the hydrogen is generated on site from natural gas and water using Nuvera’s PowerTap hydrogen generator and refueling system. For the site using the Plug Power technology, the hydrogen will be supplied by Air Products using an outdoor hydrogen dispenser.
Each fuel-cell powered refrigerated trailer will run for at least 400 hours at each demonstration site, delivering goods from the distribution centers to stores or other outlets.