NZEN’s Greg Robertson gets a look at the future of alternative motors.
My first glimpse – from my hotel’s balcony – of the venue for Hyster-Yale’s hydrogen-powered forklifts media launch gave me a snippet of the theme to come. As the camera zoomed in, Hyundai’s Sydney-based head office mushroomed from within the Macquarie Park landscape.
It was a scene that would prove to be indicative of a unique bi-lateral company collaboration, with Hyster and Hyundai Motor Company Australia coming together to promote the coming of age of alternative energies.
JUST THE BEGINNING
Swags of media, officials and dignitaries were on-hand for the demonstration of Australasia’s first hydrogen-powered forklift.
The collaborative partnership at Hyundai Australia with Hyster – belying current competitive dealings in certain product channels – is about promoting the technology. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) are not new, with Hyundai this year launching its Nexo model featuring state-of-the-art, latest-generation fuel cell system mounted under the bonnet.
The theory is that HFCVs can offer zero-emissions motoring, just like electric cars, without the need for recharging so drivers won’t have to change their behaviour after more than a century of internal combustion engines.
In forklifts, as was on display, the technology has resulted in the performance and refuelling speed of typical conventionally powered alternatives, but with the sustainability of electric motors too.
Hyster-Yale Asia-Pacific managing director, Tony Fagg, introduced the hydrogen-powered forklifts, and described them as clean and green, with high environmental performance coupled with the convenience and workplace efficiency of rapid refuelling that, in turn, results in maximum uptime.
“These new hard-working forklifts comprise a production-tested Hyster range that complements our existing globally respected ranges and is backed by the distribution and technical resources of Hyster-Yale Group, which produces forklifts for the toughest working conditions in capacities from 1-52 tonnes,” says Mr Fagg.
The new hydrogen-powered forklift trucks are aimed particularly at companies seeking the ultimate combination of environmentally harmonious indoor and outdoor performance, without having to interrupt production cycles or have vehicles out of service for lengthy charging or battery changing. These benefits will extend to a wide range of materials handling operations, where productivity is a vital element in maintaining a competitive edge.
Refuelling of the units is down to a touch over three minutes when compared with an all-day timeframe, meaning massive savings in improved efficiencies.
“We believe that, not only are these the first hydrogen powered forklifts in Australia or New Zealand, but also that such practical hydrogen-powered vehicles as these show the way ahead for a whole new generation of future-focussed work vehicles, and perhaps ultimately for passenger vehicles.”
Currently, they are only available for distribution in the United States and Canada, with a view to introducing them to the Asia-Pacific region in future years.
The Hyundai Macquarie Park site was selected due to the hydrogen refuelling station used for the carmaker’s local hydrogen vehicle testing with the event featuring a Hyster 1.8 powered by Nuvera unit.
Refuelling the Hyster machines is much like that of a car – a few minutes resulting in enough hydrogen to power them for a shift, while also giving the added advantage of no loss of power throughout that time period even when the charge dissipates.
“Hyster’s hydrogen-powered ranges – which complement our broader globally respected materials handling technologies – utilise durable high-performance Nuvera fuel cell systems, which are fast-fuelled power options that replace lead-acid batteries in Class I, II, and III electric lift trucks. The Nuvera fuel cell system is designed and built to provide customer return on investment over the lifecycle of the product.”
Mr Fagg says that the refuelling process when compared with battery-operated forklifts means the whole fleet can be used to its full potential – maximising product and operator utilisation – and provide gains in uptime and productivity.
HOW THEY WORK
Fuel cell vehicles are fuelled and refuelled by a hose from a dispenser in the same way that typical work vehicles and cars and trucks are refuelled at a petrol or diesel bowser. The hydrogen dispenser pumps hydrogen into the cell’s hydrogen storage tank. As long as the fuel cell is supplied with hydrogen and oxygen, it will generate electricity to power the forklift’s electric motor.
In the process of the hydrogen fuel’s conversion to electricity through a chemical reaction in the cell, electricity is produced, and this is used to power the electric motor that drives the vehicle. The process is very clean because, unlike a conventional fossil fuel engine, a fuel cell doesn’t burn the hydrogen. Instead, it’s fused chemically with oxygen producing electricity and water, which is the primary emission from the vehicle giving the vehicle clean, green credentials.
WHO WILL USE THIS TECHNOLOGY?
The sustainability delivered by Hyster’s new work vehicles is applicable to an entire range of future-focussed industries, including particularly materials handling, manufacturing, warehousing, distribution and processing operations. It is also directly relevant to major resources companies (such as mining, oil and gas) that are seeking to reduce their operations’ environmental footprint in remote and sensitive areas, as well as environmentally aware utilities including local authorities, energy, water and waste water engineering facilities and transport and automotive service facilities where workers may be exposed to environmental and workplace OB&S hazards.
Requirements essential to the success of the use of this technology include a steady, cost-effective supply of hydrogen, which can be delivered, generated on-site or employing a fleet dispenser system such as Hyster-Yale’s proven Nuvera system.
ON THE WORLD’S STAGE
Currently, Hyster hydrogen vehicles are on sale in North America and Hyster-Yale Asia Pacific plans to introduce the line in Australia “in future years”.
For now, the system is limited by economies of scale with significant refuelling station investment required, somewhat limiting abilities to large fleet operators.
Home Depot, Ikea and Walmart are examples of major players adopting such technology. Home Depot uses hydrogen-powered forklifts (about 200 units) in Ohio, while Ikea’s Saint-Quentin-Fallavier distribution centre in France has had 20 fuel cell forklifts since 2014 and Walmart has Plug Power GenDrive fuel cells in 19 distribution centres to power its forklifts.
From narrow aisle warehouse trucks to heavy-duty container handling equipment, Hyster-Yale is leading the way.
Hyster-Yale designs, engineers, manufactures, sells, and services a portfolio of materials handling equipment that is among the most comprehensive in the industry. Hyster-Yale covers hundreds of end-user applications in more than 700 industries. Its products include a full range of electric and internal combustion engine lift trucks for indoor and outdoor applications.
From narrow aisle warehouse trucks to the toughest cargo handling equipment, its counterbalanced lift trucks are recognised as some of the most productive in the world.