Fuel Cell-Powered Equipment Helps Warehouses and Distribution Centers Meet Efficiency, Sustainability, and Cost Objectives


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The fuel cell future is here. A decade ago, the use of hydrogen fuel cell-powered equipment in warehouses and distribution centers seemed like science fiction. That has all changed in the last couple of years. In terms of adoption, Europe is leading this, but the United States is starting to catch up thanks to the leadership of some of the biggest players in the warehousing and distribution space: Walmart, Amazon, and DHL.

From forklifts to delivery trucks

Fuel cell technology was first introduced into warehouses as a way to improve the efficiency and reduce the emissions of forklifts.

This was a natural starting point for three main reasons:

  1. Warehouses are getting bigger. The size of the average warehouse built in 2017 was more than double the size of the average warehouse built in 2001. That means forklifts have more area to cover.
  2. Forklifts create emissions, which can be hazardous to employee health as well as to employer sustainability programs.
  3. Once the infrastructure is in place, fuel cells provide a significant energy cost savings over traditional power sources.

In 2014, a company called Plug Power released its first commercial materials handling fuel cell. Since then, they’ve installed more than 25,000 fuel cell units, including almost 9,000 at Walmart distribution centers. Earlier this year, Amazon invested in the company and committed to purchasing up to $70 million in fuel cell products for its warehouses and distribution centers. And next year, DHL, which has a goal of zero carbon emissions by 2050, will take delivery of 100 fuel cell-powered delivery trucks

Amazon, Walmart, and DHL are early adopters of technology in general, so it’s not surprising that they’re among the first to invest in fuel cell infrastructure. However, all signs point to other companies not being far behind. 

In their 2019 report “The Future of Hydrogen,” the International Energy Agency noted that “the time is right to tap into hydrogen’s potential to play a key role in a clean, secure, and affordable energy future.” One of the biggest hurdles in the past was the expense, but the cost of producing hydrogen from renewable sources is expected to fall 30% as production ramps up to meet carbon reduction targets.

Fuel cell-powered cleaning equipment

Forklifts and delivery trucks may get all of the press, but they aren’t the only fuel-cell powered equipment changing the way warehouses and distribution centers operate.

Nilfisk is known for introducing the first fuel cell-powered industrial combination sweeper-scrubber to the market. The Advance CS7010 also uses Plug Power fuel cells, so it’s a natural fit for any company that has already invested in this technology to further leverage their infrastructure.

The Advance CS7010 offers a number of advantages compared to traditional sweeper-scrubbers:

  • Increased efficiency. The runtime efficiency and fuel economy of this machine is effectively double that of similar equipment.
  • Increased sustainability. Fuel cell-powered vehicles are 100% emission-free. The only byproducts are water vapor and air. The CS7010 also includes features, such as EcoFlex and SmartFlow, that reduce water and detergent use by 30% or more.
  • Lower cost of ownership. The CS7010 doesn’t have the complex, high-maintenance hydraulic systems typically found on sweeper-scrubbers. Instead, it uses electric drives, which lowers the cost of ownership by drastically reducing maintenance costs.

An ancillary benefit of fuel cell technology is that it doesn’t require the same floor space as electric batteries, so warehouse space can be used for other things.

If you already have fuel cell infrastructure in place in your warehouse or distribution center, or you’re planning to invest in it soon, we can help you get more out of your investment by using it to power your cleaning equipment. If you haven’t yet invested in fuel cell infrastructure, but plan to do so in the future, you can still upgrade your cleaning equipment now. The CS7010 can be run on traditional batteries as well, so you can reap the other benefits of the technology immediately and transfer to fuel cell technology down the road. Get in touch to learn more.

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