Plug Power Inc., the leading provider of hydrogen fuel cell technology to the materials handling market, will develop hydrogen fuel cell range extenders for 20 FedEx Express electric delivery trucks, allowing FedEx Express to nearly double the amount of territory the vehicles can cover with one charge. (Earlier post.)
This $3-million project is funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE) and includes project partners FedEx Express, Plug Power and Smith Electric Vehicles. The resulting hybrid vehicles will be powered by lithium-ion batteries and a 10 kW Plug Power hydrogen fuel cell system. The fuel cell solution is based on Plug Power’s GenDrive Series 1000 product architecture.
The GenDrive product series normally targets 3-wheel and 4-wheel sit-down counterbalanced materials-handling trucks. (Sit-down counterbalanced trucks are most commonly used in high-volume manufacturing and high-throughput warehousing and distribution operations. Counterbalanced trucks serve general purpose and carry the heaviest loads.) GenDrive has accumulated more than five million operating hours at customer sites across North America.
Currently, electric delivery trucks are limited to traveling about 80 miles per charge. By doubling the vehicle range, Plug Power’s range extender makes battery-based electric vehicles feasible for nearly all delivery routes. It is an enabling technology that makes electric-powered delivery vehicles a viable solution for a wide range of applications, including parcel delivery trucks, taxis, post office trucks and port vehicles, the company suggested.
Through the trials with FedEx Express, Plug Power expects to display how its range extender solution increases delivery fleet efficiency to more than 50% coupled with an approximately 35 to 40% decrease in fuel expenses, when compared to diesel trucks.
Customer interest in this technology provides Plug Power with a market expansion opportunity that leverages its existing technology-set and hydrogen fuel cell experience with development funds provided by the DOE, the company noted.
Early customer experiences with electric delivery vehicles have been overwhelmingly positive. But only 1% of these vehicles are electric today; we think that this range extender provides the added distance and quick refueling capabilities needed to really grow this market. Plug Power’s expertise in the materials handling market—where we have more than 90% market share—is an ideal base on which to build this technology.—Andy Marsh, Plug Power CEO
In his December 2013 business update, Plug Power CEO Andy Marsh noted that, in addition to the range extender opportunity, the company was also eyeing Transportation Refrigeration Units (TRUs) as well as airport ground support equipment (GSE) as potential areas for expansion. Plug Power is working with Sysco Long Island on the TRUs, and with FedEx Express on GSEs. The latter project also has support from the DOE, with $2.5 million in funding.
As of October 2013, Plug Power has delivered more than 4,000 fuel cell units to 44 total site deployments with 24 different customers. Daily hydrogen dispensing is more than 4,600 kg.
Marsh also noted that the company has been averaging approximately 10% year-over year cost reductions ($/unit) in its products from 2010 to 2014.