UNFI to Use Fuel Cell Technology at Florida DC

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UNFI to Use Fuel Cell Technology at Florida DC

As part of its corporate sustainability efforts, United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) plans to adopt hydrogen fuel cell technology to power the lift truck fleet at its Sarasota, Fla., distribution center, which will improve the efficiency, productivity, and reliability of its operations.

Providence, R.I.-based UNFI will use 65 GenDrive fuel cell-powered lift trucks in its fleet, which it expects to have mobilized by June 2010. It will add 29 new hydrogen fuel cell-powered lift trucks to its fleet, and 36 existing lift trucks will be retrofitted to hydrogen fuel cell technology.

“We consider environmental stewardship an essential component in every facet of our business, said Steve Spinner, UNFI’s president and CEO. “This hydrogen fuel cell project is further proof of UNFI’s leadership as an environmentally conscious organization by advancing the use and development of alternative-fuel technologies.”

As part of the Sarasota initiative to replace lead acid batteries and their associated charging equipment with hydrogen fuel cells, UNFI has teamed with a number of companies to implement the rollout, including Plug Power, Inc.; Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.; and Abel Womack, Inc.

Hydrogen fuel cells produce energy by combining hydrogen and oxygen in an electrochemical reaction that yields electricity, heat and water. Nontoxic, nonpoisonous hydrogen is the lightest of all gases and the most abundant element in the universe. By converting UNFI’s Sarasota lift truck fleet to hydrogen fuel cells, the distributor expects carbon emissions to be reduced by about 132 metric tons annually, an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of 35 automobiles.

“This project is a natural extension of our strategy to create an environmentally and socially responsible environment in all the communities we serve,” said Tom Dziki, UNFI’s SVP of sustainable development. “Hydrogen fuel cells not only provide greater productivity and lower operating costs, but will [also] be an important component of a clean energy future, and we are … pioneering the use of this technology in Florida. Once implemented, this fuel cell project is expected to create annual energy savings of approximately 640,000 kilowatt hours.”

The 352,000-square-foot Sarasota facility, which employs about 160 associates, serves as a regional distribution hub for customers in the southeastern United States.

UNFI carries and distributes more than 60,000 products to over 17,000 customer locations nationwide.