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Crown unveils 20 electric forklifts tested and qualified to operate with fuel cells

The company’s fuel cell initiative is a critical component of its commitment to environmental sustainability throughout its business.
By Lorie King Rogers, Associate Editor
September 10, 2010

Crown Equipment Corporation, a leading forklift manufacturer, has qualified 20 of its electric forklift models to operate with various fuel cells, bringing the total of qualified combinations of fuel cell packs and trucks to 29. With this accomplishment, Crown has taken a significant step forward for the industry in certifying the performance, efficiency and safety standards of counterbalanced, stockpicker, reach, tow and pallet trucks powered by fuel cells.

In 2009, Crown was the first lift truck manufacturer to introduce a fuel cell qualification program. This program ensures that the products Crown brings into the marketplace meet strict performance standards, approves their electric forklifts for use with fuel cell packs and provides certifications to customers.

Eric Jensen, Crown’s manager of new technology, research and development, told Modern that the company’s fuel cell qualification program duplicates its own testing, and is conducted at a 25,000-square-foot research facility near Dayton, Ohio, that is dedicated solely to this program.  Through the testing process, engineers evaluate fuel cell performance and monitor whether issues develop that affect the truck’s operation.

To qualify a fuel cell pack and truck combination, Crown’s engineers review key performance metrics for a battery-powered truck, such as traction, plugging, and lift and travel speeds. Then they replace the battery with a fuel cell power pack and measure the same indicators. Through modeling and application testing, the research team determines specific design modifications needed to ensure the fuel cell-powered forklift matched the performance, efficiency and safety standards to which the truck was initially designed.

“This accomplishment further demonstrates Crown’s leadership position in the strategic deployment of fuel cell-powered forklifts,” said Jensen. “We’ve been steadfast in our position that deployment of a fuel cell forklift fleet must be carefully evaluated and tested for appropriate use in a warehouse. This research-based approach means that our customers can confidently know they have the right truck for their chosen fuel cell, allowing them to meet their performance, safety and environmental sustainability goals.”

Crown continues to work closely with a variety of fuel cell manufacturers and customers to qualify trucks as new fuel cell pack models are introduced and fuel cell technology continues to advance. The company is also moving forward with the next phase of its fuel cell research program, which focuses on increasing levels of fuel cell integration with the truck.

“Forklifts are a key early market for fuel cells,” said Lisa Callaghan Jerram, senior market analyst for Fuel Cell Today, a leading analyst firm providing market-based research on the fuel cell industry. “Based on our market research, we have found strong growth in this sector in the past three years.”

Since the program launched two years ago, there has been steady growth and an increasing desire from customers to use this technology, Jensen said.  “For the past year, we have been getting orders for full-time, long-term installments, not just demos.  Fuel cell powered lift trucks are a permanent solution,” he added.

Environmental and economic benefits
According to Jensen, North America is currently the leading fuel cell marketplace, with the Northeastern and Southeastern areas of the United States leading the way. As far as the verticals that benefit from fuel cell applications, Jensen says that runs the gamut. Because fuel cell powered electric forklifts give off exhaust in the form of moist, warm air, IC truck customers are looking to this technology so they don’t have to deal exhaust issues, Jensen said.  Another advantage pointed out by Jensen is a fuel cell powered truck’s ability to effectively operate in a cold environment because they generate their own heat and the power doesn’t fall off like a traditional battery.

While the upfront hardware cost of fuel cells is more expensive than a traditional battery, Jensen pointed out the potential to capture savings in labor, battery changes, battery rooms, and heating and venting.  With fuel cells, he said, a facility doesn’t need a battery room and all that goes in to running it properly. Instead, there is an ongoing savings associated to using floor space for production or other value-added operations.

“If you add up all dollars you save and compare that to a higher upfront cost, companies can realize a 30% savings on their investment,” Jensen said.  “It’s a fairly complicated economic model because it depends on where you and where electricity comes from, but there is a very clear set of savings when starting a facility from the ground up. Customers are seeing the positive financial benefits of fuel cells,” he added.

“Fuel cells have always been talked about five years into the future, but we have customers who are [currently] planning installations around this product,” said Jensen.  “The future is here.”

The company’s fuel cell initiative is a critical component of its commitment to environmental sustainability throughout its business. To download a copy of the 2010 Crown ecologic Report highlighting the company’s sustainability initiatives and accomplishments, click here.

About the Author

Lorie King Rogers
Associate Editor

Lorie King Rogers, associate editor, joined Modern in 2009 after working as a freelance writer for the Casebook issue and show daily at tradeshows. A graduate of Emerson College, she has also worked as an editor on Stock Car Racing Magazine.

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