The US Department of Energy has awarded Plug Power a $650,000 contract to demonstrate the use of hydrogen-based fuel cells to power the refrigeration units in semi-trailer trucks that transport perishable and frozen foods.
Plug Power’s transport refrigeration unit (TRU) fuel cells, which will be based on its GenDrive technology, will cool Carrier Transicold refrigeration units on trailers delivering products for a Sysco distribution center on Long Island in New York. Each TRU will run for a minimum of 400 hours over the two-year contract period. Hydrogen will be supplied by Air Products.
Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory — a contractor that manages government programs for the DOE — will oversee the program.
Plug Power was selected by the Fuel Cell Technologies Office within the DOE Office of Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) to showcase its fuel cells in TRUs. These units are large air conditioners that regulate cold temperatures for items such as frozen pizza, fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products and other goods that must be kept chilled or frozen during transport from distribution centers to retail destinations.
Currently, most of the approximately 300,000 TRUs traveling across US highways are powered by diesel generators, Plug Power says. Diesel is costly and produces environmentally hazardous particulate matter and nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions. A typical TRU will consume about 10 gallons of diesel per day, and emit roughly 101 kg of carbon dioxide.
By comparison, hydrogen-powered fuel cells emit only a small amount of heat and water, making them an environmentally friendly alternative energy source. Fuel cells operate more efficiently, cleanly and quietly, at lower cost than diesel.
In addition, Plug Power customers that use hydrogen fuel cells to power material handling forklifts will benefit from deployment of fuel cells in their TRUs by leveraging the hydrogen infrastructure already in place. Increased on-site hydrogen consumption would result in lower fuel expenses overall, due to economies of scale, the company says.
Last week, Plug Power has received an order from Mercedes-Benz for 123 additional hydrogen-based GenDrive fuel cell units to power new forklifts at a logistics hub under construction in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Last July, Mercedes purchased 72 GenDrive fuel cells for the lift truck fleet at its Tuscaloosa vehicle assembly plant.