Wegmans Mobilizes Fuel-Cell Powered Warehouse Pallet Trucks

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Wegmans Mobilizes Fuel-Cell Powered Warehouse Pallet Trucks

Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. yesterday 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 stores in a five-state area.

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,” said 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, Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans also pointed to 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,” explained 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,” said 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.”

Partial funding for the project was received at federal and state levels. In April 2009, the United States 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 effort is designed to improve the potential of fuel cells to provide power in stationary, portable and specialty vehicle applications, while cutting carbon emissions and broadening the nation’s clean-energy technology portfolio. The project also received a $1 million grant from the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority.

Air Products’ fueling infrastructure at Wegmans includes an outdoor liquid hydrogen storage and compression system, along with multiple indoor fueling dispensers for operator refueling. Details on Air Products’ hydrogen fueling station technologies are available at www.airproducts.com/h2energy.

Air Products will fuel the fleet of pallet trucks all fitted with 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.

Air Products’ hydrogen fueling technology is currently being used to fuel about 300 material-handling vehicles, including fuel cell-powered lift trucks at Central Grocers’ new distribution center in Joliet, Ill.; hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts at Nestlé Waters North America in Dallas; and hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts at the Defense Distribution Depot Susquehanna Pennsylvania in New Cumberland, Pa. In addition, mobile fueling equipment unique and patented by Air Products has been, and continues to be, deployed to a variety of customers to demonstrate the technology in real-world conditions.

Wegmans is a 75-store supermarket chain with stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland.