BMW’s entire fleet of material-handling trucks and forklifts in its Spartanburg, SC production facility is now equipped with hydrogen fuel cells from Plug Power.
This expansion, which brings the facility’s clean-energy fleet to 275 units, make it the largest such fleet in North America, the companies say.
In 2010, after installing a storage and distribution area for hydrogen supplied by Linde Industrial Gases near its 4-million-square-foot production facility in Spartanburg, BMW equipped more than 100 forklift trucks and pallet jacks in its X3 assembly hall with Plug Power’s GenDrive hydrogen fuel cell system. Now, BMW has added GenDrive units to another 175 trucks and forklifts in the assembly hall for its X5 and X6 automobiles and in its paint and body shops.
Clean GenDrive hydrogen fuel cells are an alternative to lead-acid batteries in the $20 billion global material handling market. In addition to producing zero emissions, Plug Power says use of the fuel cells lowers operational costs and improves reliability. Fuel cell usage also eliminates the need for large battery storage and charging rooms, freeing up valuable production space and removing any lead and sulfuric acid contamination from the work environment. Since battery charging is no longer required, total electricity demand is reduced and the fees associated with battery recycling and disposal are eliminated.
BMW says it chose to deploy GenDrive fuel cells in its manufacturing center to take advantage of those and other benefits, such as increased productivity for both vehicle operators and production. Material handling trucks powered by fuel cells run longer at full speed unlike battery-powered trucks that experience voltage drops and speed reductions of approximately 14 percent when a re-charge is needed. Re-fueling can be completed in two minutes or less, as opposed to the 20 minutes required to replace a battery.
In other hydrogen fuel cells news, Honda has joined H2USA, the Energy Department’s public-private partnership focused on advancing hydrogen infrastructure to support transportation energy options including fuel cell electric vehicles, launched last month. Other automaker members include Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan.