Blog: Auto Industry Recognizes Value of Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Auto Industry Recognizes Value of Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Monday, 9/29/2014

Plug Power’s hydrogen fuel cell solutions are proving their value with material handling customers across North America. Customers who have chosen GenKey have opted for Plug Power’s complete, turn-key solution that provides GenDrive fuel cells for their material handling vehicles, installation of an onsite GenFuel infrastructure with hydrogen fuel, storage and indoor fueling dispensers, and Plug Power’s year-round GenCare maintenance service package.

One notable group that has recognized the advantages of hydrogen fuel cells is the automotive manufacturing market. To-date, Plug Power has helped BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Honda best utilize GenDrive power, and in some cases the complete GenKey solution. These auto manufacturers have found that they can easily adopt hydrogen fuel cells to power the material distribution fleets supporting their vehicle assembly operations. The result – superior benefits and lower operational costs.

With our hydrogen and fuel cell solution, Plug Power’s core business provides predictability, productivity, sustainability, and workforce safety. The larger the fleet and the more inventory moved, the stronger the value proposition becomes. In other words, the elements of GenKey bring stronger value to automotive industry operations, where material handling fleets spend the day loading and unloading very heavy containers of auto parts that are used in vehicle assembly plants.

PREDICTABILITY. Hydrogen fuel cells have proven to be of enormous value to the auto-manufacturing industry because of the predictability they provide. GenDrive fuel cells remain at full power for an entire shift, regardless of the weight being moved. In other words, consistent, expected power and performance, 100% of the time. Also, each forklift driver knows exactly when it’s time to refuel – when the forklift fuel gauge is on empty. At that point, the operator refuels in just minutes before getting back to work.

In contrast, for lift trucks running on lead-acid battery power, there is always the question of how much charge remains, as the storage capacity of a battery changes over its lifetime. Think about your cell phone – the battery life certainly changes from day-one to day-365, right? And you can never really tell when battery degradation will hit. Additionally, variability is experienced when it comes time to change and charge forklift batteries. Drivers can experience unpredictable wait times in battery-changing lines, never knowing exactly how long this activity will take. This creates a situation where forklifts operating on battery power are less dependable and their performance is unpredictable.

It’s quite simple – GenDrive fuel cells allow auto manufacturing facilities to operate with more precise knowledge of their assembly capabilities. Lift truck drivers are always aware of their fuel level and they know that their GenDrive units can be quickly refueled and back on the floor right away, ensuring predictable delivery of parts to high-precision assembly lines.

PRODUCTIVITY. Not only do GenDrive fuel cells outperform lead-acid batteries, they also improve lift truck uptime. Lead-acid batteries generally need to be changed out once per shift. The time required for a battery change is approximately 15 minutes. This compares to an average of 2 minutes required for the hydrogen refueling of a GenDrive unit. Over the course of one year, that 13 extra minutes needed per shift for the battery change amounts to over 156 hours of lost productive time, per forklift truck in a 3-shift operation.

Battery droop, experienced when the charge is running down, limits productivity on the floor. And, trips to the battery room mean waiting in line, downtime, and lost productivity. With lift trucks running on Plug Power GenDrive fuel cells, you have a fleet that runs at constant speed and performance. That means no performance degradation, no trips to the battery room and no swapping out batteries.

The cost of downtime on production lines is very high. BMW tells us that when a production facility is operating 24/7, any downtime means lost sales, as they cannot get back the time lost. By using GenDrive, customers are able to operate at an elevated efficiency level.

SUSTAINABILITY. All of Plug Power’s auto manufacturing customers promote sustainability. For example, VW has created a culture around their sustainability message of THINK BLUE. Since GenDrive fuel cells operate cleanly and sustainably, producing zero harmful emissions, they have a positive impact on the environment, and allow companies to promote how GenKey supports their sustainability initiatives.

SAFER, CLEANER WORKING ENVIRONMENT. Plug Power’s GenDrive fuel cells make for a cleaner, healthier, acid-free work place – with no risk of injury to lift truck operators handling lead-acid batteries. GenDrive hydrogen fuel cells also eliminate the costs associated with handling and storing toxic materials.

GLOBAL EXPANSION. Success seen at automotive manufacturing sites, like BMW, Honda, VW and Mercedes-Benz, opens the door for global expansion of fuel cell use. Plug Power’s international business development team is currently working with vehicle manufacturing customers in other countries, including the UK, Germany, Spain and Mexico, to broaden their use of GenDrive and GenKey.

Plug Power is not only developing value propositions that prove the economic benefits of GenDrive for automotive industry material handling fleets, it is also helping auto manufacturing customers around the globe plan their strategies for deployment of the complete GenKey solution.