As electric forklifts continue to grow in popularity, manufacturers are making significant efforts to find ways to improve run-time and performance to match – or even exceed – their internal combustion (IC) engine counterparts.
Environmental concerns and availability of natural resources – such as coal, oil, and natural gas – are also driving the need to find a sustainable, long-term renewable energy solution.
Hydrogen is one viable alternative energy source. When it comes to material handling equipment or even automobiles and factories, hydrogen fuel cells have proven to be a realistic replacement for today’s conventional means of powering machinery and equipment.
If you’re interested in what hydrogen can do for you and your business, here are some key insights into how fuel cells work, and how they can ultimately impact your bottom line.
Hydrogen is a chemical element that can be found in natural resources like plants and water. While there is a finite amount of naturally-occurring hydrogen in the atmosphere, the element can be produced in alternative ways, including steam reforming, electrolysis, and gasification.
A fuel cell is a cell that produces an electric current as a direct result of a chemical reaction. The chemical reaction produces electricity that is used to power a load which, for our purposes, is a forklift. Fuel cells are used to power a wide range of products today, from small electronics, to buses, and even certain industrial facilities.
Proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells are currently the most viable type used for powering industrial equipment such as forklifts. Similar to a battery, PEM fuel cells utilize a cathode, anode, and an electrolyte to transfer electrons along an electrical path to power the forklift. Unlike a lead acid battery, however, this process occurs using only hydrogen and oxygen found naturally in the atmosphere.
The electrolyte, in this case, is a membrane that allows only positively charged ions to pass to the cathode, leaving negatively charged electrons to power the forklift. When the electrons, positively charged ions, and oxygen pulled in from the environment come together at the end of the circuit, it creates water as a byproduct that flows out of the fuel cell.
Hydrogen-powered vehicles are similar to their IC engine counterparts in that they can be refilled quickly and easily at a fueling station. They also require less maintenance because they don’t need the watering, equalizing, charging, or cleaning that is required with lead acid batteries.
While the bottom line is important to all businesses, it’s also important to consider the positive impact that fuel cells can have on the environment. With zero carbon emissions and potentially less reliance on natural resources to produce, fuel cells are a viable source of sustainable energy capable of powering more than just forklifts for the foreseeable future.
If you have a question on this or any topic related to safety with your forklift, give our resident expert, Dave Bennet, a call or fill out the request form.