Lift trucks: Central Grocers embraces fuel cells

Grocery co-op switches over to fuel-cell powered lift trucks to drive its fleet’s uptime to 98%.
By Lorie King Rogers, Associate Editor
June 01, 2011 - MMH Editorial

At Central Grocers in Joliet, Ill., it’s all about power. Central Grocers, a member-owned cooperative wholesale food distributor, was spending too much time in its 970,000-square-foot DC on battery maintenance issues. So, the distributor, which supplies 200 independent retail grocery stores in Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana, joined a yearlong trial of fuel cell-powered lift trucks.

“Manually changing batteries was quite an ordeal,” says John Coari, Central Grocers’ vice president of distribution, “and we were only getting about three to four years out of each battery.”

Looking to decrease the time spent on non-valued added tasks and increase uptime, Central Grocers incorporated a fuel cell-powered fleet consisting of 234 vehicles. Throughout the year, the company used and tested 51 reach trucks, 38 stand-up counterbalanced units, five sit-down counterbalanced units and 140 center control pallet trucks (Yale Materials Handling Group, YES Equipment and Services, When the year was over, the results showed that the fuel cell-powered lift trucks had an impressive uptime rate of 98%.

In addition to the uptime benefits that fuel cell-powered trucks provide, there’s no decrease in power as a battery runs low. The fuel cell-powered units run at full capacity until they need to be refueled. And, with five hydrogen pumping stations located throughout the facility, there’s plenty of opportunity to refuel.

Refueling takes between 2 and 3 minutes. Not only is it quick, it’s clean and safe. Distilled water, which is the byproduct of the hydrogen fuel cell, is stored in fuel cell and emptied during the refueling process. Because there’s no exhaust, fuel cell-powered vehicles are an environmentally friendly solution.

The results of the study were so good that Central Grocers will continue to operate a fuel cell-powered fleet, and Coari says the company has just purchased eight more fuel-cell powered lift trucks.

Fuel cells: The science, study and promise of the newest player in materials handling
These alternative sources of energy on the lift truck scene may prove to be a viable alternative, after a little help.

Fuel cell round up from ProMat
Educated customers explore reality of hydrogen fuel cell at ProMat 2011

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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