Hydrogen Fuel Cells: The Future is Closer Than You Think

WASHINGTON, D.C. : Joe Robinson of CSI Material Handling hit the road and headed to our nation’s capital to take in a session of congress focused on the future. It might not have been a session one would be expecting considering that statement as it had nothing to do with Russia, North Korea, or the current administration. No – Joe was there for a special session of Congress discussing hydrogen fuel cells and their future in our heavy equipment and automotive industries. 
Joe witnessed five speakers. One from the U.S. Department of Energy, one from Toyota Material Handling North America’s (TMNA) Energy Research and Development department and three from energy companies operating in the hydrogen fuel cell space (Air Liquide, Plug Power and Bloom Energy).
From the Department of Energy, Joe learned that hydrogen fuel cell technology got off the ground in the 1970’s. In California there are currently 27 filling stations and there are plans for expansion. Also discussed was the high level of commitment (through foreign direct investment and domestic investment) that Japan and China have.
Why Hydrogen? Hydrogen fuel is, on average, 2.5X more efficient than gasoline and propane fuel methods.* For passenger vehicles, this means more mileage between fill-ups. For material handling equipment such as forklifts, this means multiple shifts on a single fueling with no breaks for charging. When it comes time to fill up, it takes minutes, not hours. For forklifts, the better efficiency also means there is constant and consistent power during shifts. Also, the lifetime of fuel cells is 10 years on average, compared to 3 years on average for lead acid batteries. 

Toyota Weighs In Robert Wimmer, the Director of Energy Research and Development, TMNA, discussed that Toyota has a hydrogen car available in California that they plan on rolling it out to the Northeast in 2018. They are working on a hydrogen-fueled Toyota Tundra that will be available in the “near future” and they are also working on a hydrogen-fueled tractor trailer. To help make the Northeast roll out more feasible, they have partnered with Air Liquide, whose CEO, Ole Hoefelman, was present. Hoefelman said that they are planning on constructing twelve filling station locations in 2018 between NYC and Boston. Also mentioned was the formation of a “Hydrogen Council” which will include twelve members, all from large energy companies that offer hydrogen fuel. 
All-in-all, Joe walked away with a feeling of expectation. He didn’t expect hydrogen fuel cell technology to be relevant in the automotive and heavy-equipment industries so soon. Knowing that it is right around the corner, Joe can prepare himself and his customers for the coming changes in energy efficiency.