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Greener Produce

The latest tools of the trade

Wegmans’ fuel cell-powered warehouse pallet trucks make its produce supply chain more Earth-friendly.

The produce at Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. just got a little greener.

The Rochester, N.Y.-based independent in April launched a fleet of 50 hydrogen fuel cell-powered pallet trucks using hydrogen and hydrogen fueling-station technology at its Pottsville, Pa., warehouse, to move produce on a daily basis for shipments to its 75 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland.

The warehouse installation is the first commercial site in Pennsylvania to use this advanced technology, provided by Lehigh Valley, Pa.-based Air Products, to move consumer goods using hydrogen-powered material handling equipment.

“Our folks tested the equipment early last year and could immediately see what it would mean to equipment performance and productivity,” says Dave Allar, Wegmans’ retail service center maintenance manager, who compared the experience of converting to hydrogen powered equipment to that of driving a car. “Whether a gas tank is full or down to a quarter-tank, a car will travel at 60 mph. Not so when battery power is used; performance diminishes as the battery discharges.”

Beyond productivity improvements, Allar also cites the environmental benefits of the changeover. A hydrogen fuel cell produces energy through an electrochemical reaction. Because hydrogen is the fuel source, heat and water are the only byproducts.

“We are always looking for ways to improve our sustainability,” adds David DeMascole, general manager-Pottsville distribution facility for Wegmans. “There is also pride associated with being the first in Pennsylvania. Wegmans tries to be on the cutting edge for our industry.”

“The Pottsville warehouse will be a showcase site to demonstrate the benefits of hydrogen fueling for the lift industry,” says Dave Taylor, VP, energy businesses at Air Products. “There was a team involved in this project, including the public and private sector, and all should be commended for their efforts.”

Air Products’ fueling infrastructure at Wegmans includes an outdoor liquid hydrogen storage and compression system, along with multiple indoor fueling dispensers for operator refueling.

Air Products will fuel the fleet of pallet trucks all fitted with Latham, N.Y.-based Plug Power’s GenDrive hydrogen fuel cell power units. The GenDrive systems can be quickly refueled in less than five minutes, completely eliminating the need to change, store, charge and maintain multiple lead acid batteries per lift truck. Wegmans hopes to convert its entire lift truck fleet at the Pottsville facility to hydrogen fuel cells over the next few years. Prior to this point, Wegmans’ material-handling equipment was all powered with lead acid batteries.

Partial funding for the project was received at federal and state levels. In April 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) rolled out a funding program for fuel cell technology, to expand use of clean and renewable energy sources to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. DOE said these efforts would accelerate the commercialization and deployment of fuel cells, and create jobs in fuel cell manufacturing, installation, maintenance and support services. The project also received a $1 million grant from the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority.

Nuts & Bolts: Air Products’ Fueling System

Air Products provides the hydrogen supply and fueling infrastructure for fuel cell power packs, which are direct replacements for the industrial batteries used in forklifts, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and other material handling vehicles.

According to the vendor, using Air Products’ integrated hydrogen fueling systems with fuel cell power packs offers many benefits, including:

  • Elimination of time-consuming recharging and swap-outs associated with batteries; vehicles are refueled once or twice per day and can be refueled in three to five minutes
  • Units produce constant voltage, so industrial vehicles maintain constant speed throughout the workday
  • Units are Earth-friendly: the only emission from hydrogen fuel cells is water
  • To suit the varying needs of retailers, Air products provides flexible options for hydrogen supply and fueling
  • Support for pilot programs: Air Products’ mobile Hydrogen Fueling Services were developed as a cost-effective way to evaluate fuel cell technology. The HF150 mobile hydrogen fueler provides a hydrogen supply as well as self-contained dispensing equipment
  • A stand-alone fueling system: For permanent installations, Air Products offers a gaseous hydrogen supply via tube trailer for low-volume requirements, as well as liquid hydrogen delivery for users requiring higher volumes
  • On-site hydrogen generation: Air Products offers electrolyzer technology as well as high-efficiency natural gas or hydrocarbon reformers, and its team of supply chain experts are available to analyze a retailer’s particular situation and recommend the best source of supply
  • Fueling systems: Air Products’ fueling systems are designed for simple, cost-effective installation and automatic operation for high reliability. Each fueling system comprises three components — compression, buffer storage and dispensing. Air Products’ dispensers offer fast-fill capabilities, and are designed for safe operation by personnel
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