No fizzle for green forklifts

Demand for more "green" power options is expected to grow as Australia moves to become a more carbon-efficient economy. Annie Dang writes.

SHIFTING towards more environmental friend equipment options has allowed many manufacturers retain if not gain a competitive advantage in the market, however the up-take of "green" power source technology has largely remained slow in the local market.

Nathan Tiles, Adaptalift Hyster's engineering manager said 'green' power options in the local materials handling equipment field is still in an early phase with experimental work being conducted primarily in Europe and North America in relation to both hydrogen fuel cell and hybrid technologies.

"However in less exotic ways, emission footprints of material handling equipment are steadily reducing due to the implementations of smarter battery charging, for example intelligent HF charging, and or higher level compliant internal combustion engines, such as Tier 4i compliant diesel engines," he told Logistics & Materials Handling.

While it is not clear how the new tax will be applied or administered, Australian manufacturers have been gearing up for its arrival through embracing cleaner energy options for forklifts and lift trucks, even if not at the same pace as it European and North American counterparts.

"Certainly Blue Chip companies and those with high potential carbon tax liabilities are interested and running internal programs to reduce overall emissions in any manner possible," said Tiles.

Electric forklifts are by far the most popular alterative source for clean power in Australia. This is largely due to Australia having more relaxed environmental laws and standards compared to European, UK and North American markets, where alternative as hydrogen fuel cell powered forklifts are being rolled out.

"At present fuel cell technology can be described as immature, and a business must assess whether the benefit outweighs the risk in their particular application," explained Tiles.

Green option for Australia

While speculation is that fuel cell technology might fizzle out of interest in the local market, its uptake abroad, this year alone, proves the technology has market pull.

In January, Air Liquide deployed France's first hydrogen fuel cell powered lift trucks at its Vatry Air Liquide welding supply chain platform. The two hydrogen-powered Crown lift trucks are part of a larger upgrade of the Vatry platform and follows news that Air Liquide subsidiary, Axane, would be working with Plug Power to bring its successful GenDrive technology to European forklifts.

In February, Air Products said it is bringing fuel cell material handling vehicle hydrogen refuelling stations on stream in the US for a new customer with warehouses in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Texas. The refuelling stations are expected to fuel more than 1,000 fuel cell forklifts daily.

Coca-Cola has also revealed a fleet of 37 fuel cell forklift fleet and 19 fuel cell pallet jacks for its huge San Leandro bottling plant in California. Plug Power supplied the GenDrive fuel cells, which are designed as drop-in replacements for the lead-acid batteries used in electric lift trucks. 

In the UK, Marks and Spencer has signed a pilot agreement to conduct the UK's first fuel cell materials handling trial with on-site hydrogen production.