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Raymond introduces a hydrogen fuel cell-powered orderpicker

United Natural Foods becomes the first customer to install the new equipment and extend its sustainability efforts.
By Lorie King Rogers, Associate Editor
July 27, 2010

United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI), a leading independent national distributor of natural, organic and specialty foods and related products, has taken a giant step forward in its commitment to sustainability.  As part of an initiative to transform its Sarasota, Fla. distribution facility lift truck fleet, the company has installed new hydrogen fuel cell-powered trucks recently developed by The Raymond Corporation.  The hydrogen fuel cell-compatible orderpickers, which Raymond says are the first of its kind in the industry, are helping UNFI reduce their carbon footprint and increase productivity.

“This project extends our commitment to create an environmentally and socially responsible environment in all the communities we serve,” said Lisa Madsen, UNFI director of sustainability and social responsibility. “Hydrogen fuel cells not only provide greater productivity, but by converting UNFI’s Sarasota lift truck fleet to hydrogen fuel cells, we expect carbon emissions will be reduced by approximately 132 metric tons annually, an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of 35 automobiles.”

In addition to environmental benefits, Providence, R.I.,-based UNFI anticipates the use of fuel cells will increase productivity in the distribution center because refueling a lift truck with hydrogen takes much less time than battery charging and changing.

While this transition was smooth for UNFI, developing the technology had its challenges for Raymond.  Fuel cells are used as battery replacements in lift trucks and must meet size compatibility standards, explained Frank Devlin, Raymond segment manager.  “There are extra challenges in engineering a fuel cell-compatible orderpicker due to the existing battery compartment size,” he said, “so Raymond redesigned the battery compartment of its Model 5500 orderpicker.”

The new specially-built 21-inch battery box, which can easily accommodate a hydrogen fuel cell, enabled UNFI to convert its entire fleet to hydrogen power.

Devlin told Modern that the UNFI project took several months, with most of that time dedicated to testing the truck.  He explained that development also included adding cabling so the fuel cell display could be mounted in the operator compartment. “The display provides operators with an update so they know when to refuel the tank,” he said.

The new orderpicker is also a few inches longer to accommodate the size of the fuel cell. Devlin said, “Adding even a few inches dramatically changes the geometry of a lift truck, which makes extensive stability testing critical.” 

When Modern asked Devlin if more end users are ready to contemplate such a purchase, he said, “The ROI for a fuel cell project is really better when companies are converting an entire fleet.  For end users who have orderpickers in their fleets and want to convert fleets or configure new fleets using hydrogen fuel cells, the ability to acquire a hydrogen fuel cell-powered orderpicker is essential.”

About the Author

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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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