Blog: A Hot Product For Cold Storage

A Hot Product For Cold Storage

Why Fuel Cells Succeed Where Batteries Fail

December 1, 2014

There’s no getting around it: batteries do not fare well in cold temperatures. Hydrogen fuel cells, however, function superbly in extreme temperatures.

This is one of the reasons that many of Plug Power’s material handling customers have made the decision to replace their lift truck batteries with GenDrive fuel cells. The advantages of operating crucial material moving equipment with hydrogen fuel cells are many, but the fact that fuel cells keep drivers productive and schedules on-target, makes for a very compelling case to eliminate batteries, especially in cold-storage warehouses.

An article in Modern Material Handling’s November 2014 issue titled “Batteries take more heat in cold storage” outlines the causes of battery degradation and underperformance in cold storage applications, which result in productivity losses and costly, more-frequent battery replacement.

The article cites: “Because cold environments sap a battery’s run time, each is often depleted before the end of a shift, providing four to five hours of run time as opposed to the eight you may expect in an ambient environment.”

Battery Fact: If a battery’s internal temp reaches 30 degrees to 50 degrees – battery life may be reduced by 30% to 40%. If a battery freezes, usability may be completely destroyed.

GenDrive Fact: Unlike lead-acid batteries whose performance degradations are amplified in cold environments, GenDrive fuel cells power material handling vehicles the same way gasoline powers cars. If the system has fuel, it has full power. The GenDrive fuel cell maintains constant performance even in environments as low as -20 degrees F.

Over 70% of Plug Power GenDrive customers have a freezer space in their facility. Hydrogen fuel cells are not affected by cold operations, and they run up to twice as long per fill-up compared to battery-powered units. This not only allows operators to stay productive longer moving goods around, but also means fuel cell-powered lift trucks can remain in the cold storage facility for longer periods of time.

The article cites:Because cold applications are more commonly multi-shift, a single misstep in the ideal battery charge cycle sends a cascading effect through the fleet. A poorly charged battery results in a premature swap, which eats time and compels an operator to further battery abuse.”

Battery Fact: Lead-acid batteries do not have “set it and forget it” functionality. They are complex devices that work through electro chemical reactions, and they require ongoing maintenance. Poorly conducted maintenance, coupled with the type of harsh, unfriendly environment in a cold storage warehouse, can negatively impact battery performance and useful life.

GenDrive Fact: Material handling vehicles powered by GenDrive fuel cells keep the logistics of fueling in the driver’s hands. The fuel cell operates at full power for the entire shift, regardless of temperature.

When it’s time to refuel the unit, the driver stops and fills up in just minutes before returning to operations. There is no need to swap out the fuel cell for a new one. There is no need to schedule a specific time for refueling. Operations continue smoothly and swiftly, so productivity remains high.

Plug Power’s GenDrive fuel cell units replace lead-acid batteries as a power source for electric lift trucks in material handling operations. ROI and performance drive the choice by customers to replace batteries with hydrogen fuel cells. Beyond those benefits, one of the most favorable attributes of hydrogen fuel cells is their consistent, dependable performance in cold-storage applications – an environment that constrains and degrades the useful life of lead-acid batteries. No wonder so many material handling customers with refrigerated warehouses have turned to GenDrive to power their forklifts!