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issue: August 2009 APPLIANCE Magazine

Appliance Engineer - Manufacturing Technology
Manufacturing Gets a Green Lift

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Powered by fuel cell technology, a new forklift not only delivers environmental advantages, but also increases productivity by shortening refueling time.

Maker of forklifts Crown Equipment Corp. (New Bremen, OH, U.S.; www.crown.com) has successfully incorporated fuel cell technology into its forklifts after years of research and testing. With fuel cells, which combine air and fuel in an electrochemical reaction to make electrical power, the Crown FC 4500–series sit-down counterbalanced forklift can potentially lessen OEMs’ environmental impact by reducing carbon emissions. “If you compare hydrogen fuel cells, in which the hydrogen is made from natural gas, to battery-powered trucks, in which the batteries are recharged with electricity generated from coal-fired power plants, the carbon footprint of the hydrogen is lower,” explains Eric Jensen, Crown’s manager of new technology research and development. “If the hydrogen in the fuel cell is created by electrolysis (using electricity to release hydrogen from water) and the electricity used to recharge the battery comes from wind or solar, then there is no environmental impact for either one.”

In addition to its environmental merits, the FC 4500 forklift also boasts short refueling time, which could significantly improve productivity. “For a battery-powered forklift, during a typical three-shift day, you will need to change batteries once a shift,” says Jensen. Although a fuel cell hydrogen tank also needs to be filled once a shift, “the difference is that it takes at least 30 minutes to change batteries and only 1–2 minutes to fill the fuel cells with hydrogen,” he says. In addition, refueling of the fuel cell can be done whenever it is convenient, whereas lead-acid batteries must be replaced after the state of charge reaches 15–20% in order to maintain their operating life.

Suited for demanding material-handling tasks in appliance plants, the four-wheel FC 4500–series forklift is available in capacities of 4000, 5000, 5500, and 6000 lb. It features strong, durable frames and drive units, as well as an 11.4-in.-diam ac traction motor that supplies sufficient power without strain. One of the optional features for the forklift is the Crown InfoLink system, which monitors and communicates fleet truck usage and performance information. According to Jensen, the system’s forklift sensors, wireless technology, integrated electronics and display, and automated processes allow for real-time information gathering. This enables companies to easily identify which trucks, operators, facilities, and shifts are most productive. InfoLink also enables managers to spot misuse and identify areas for improvement, and plan for timely maintenance and service.

While fuel cells make the forklift greener, Jensen says the cost of a fuel cell–powered forklift truck is similar to that of a battery-powered model. Their life span and the power produced in most applications are also comparable. The difference lies in the cost of a single fuel cell compared with the two or three batteries required for multiple-shift operations. “Currently, a fuel cell costs slightly more than three lead acid batteries,” Jensen says.

Crown has an engineering and testing facility dedicated to the research of fuel cell forklift applications. The 25,000-sq-ft facility currently employs about eight research and testing experts. With two separate $1 million grants from the state of Ohio in 2008 and 2009, respectively, the firm is striving to make more of its forklifts compatible with available battery-replacement fuel cell power packs. “One significant barrier is that our forklifts were designed around battery technology. Fuel cells need ballast to bring them up to the battery weight. Unlike batteries, fuel cells also need a steady airflow to keep cool,” Jensen explains. “The energy delivery and the ability to accept regenerated energy from Crown’s e-GEN braking system are both challenging to the fuel cell.”

Given that fuel cell use in forklift applications is relatively new, there are currently no industry standards available. But Crown is working with other companies and industry organizations, such as the Industrial Truck Association (ITA), to address this problem. “The general consensus among involved parties is that we should have clear industry standards within five years,” Jensen says.


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