Linde Forklift with fuel cell in action at Mercedes Benz

“Under certain conditions, fuel cells offer significant advantages”

Mark Hanke, head of Components Predevelopment at Linde Material Handling, talks about the opportunities and possibilities that fuel cells offer as the drive system for industrial trucks.

Mr Hanke, what are the advantages of using fuel cells in Linde MH vehicles?

That is precisely the question we are currently investigating as part of a major research project that is running at BMW in Leipzig until June 2016. It is now already becoming evident, however, that this technology offers advantages under certain conditions. Vehicles can be quickly refuelled and this increases their availability. As a result, for example, you require fewer vehicles for multiple-shift operation.

What happens to running costs in comparison to battery-driven vehicles?

Of course, that depends on the application scenarios involved. How is battery changing organised, for example? If there is only one central charging area, where vehicles have to stand in line and wait for new batteries, then fuel cell refilling offers a great advantage. By the way, the personnel costs associated with the vehicles’ energy system decrease too.

How reliable are vehicles with this kind of propulsion?   

The energy system corresponds to a complex power plant with various control and monitoring systems. These, of course, can also give rise to faults. The experience in the research project shows that breakdowns are usually the result of minor problems. The vehicles can carry on driving again after a short repair. It also becomes clear, however, that you need a local service partner for the fuel cells that can supply swift assistance.

Do the vehicles still need further development?

The necessary fuel cells already exist. However, we will need to change our models to use fuel cell systems. Unlike Li-ion technology, fuel cells generate heat, which has to be extracted from the body using fans. Changes will have to be made to vehicle designs as a result. We are focusing on being able to offer a complete fleet of industrial trucks with this drive system in the future.

How important is the development of Industry 4.0 for this technology?

Let’s consider the example of autonomous vehicles. Their general availability is becoming increasingly important for Industry 4.0 systems. If they operate with fuel cells, they can announce that they need to be refuelled by sending a brief WhatsApp message to the filling station operator’s smartphone. Afterwards the vehicle is immediately operational again. Therefore, comprehensive fleet management in Industry 4.0 becomes easier on this basis.

What is your opinion of the future market chances of the fuel cell?

A number of questions still need to be answered, but this technology could represent a genuine alternative for certain users. Multiple-shift operations benefit in particular. However, they need to make several investments to get going. These include, for example, the installation of a hydrogen filling station. Incidentally, this technology is always more ecologically sustainable than lead-acid batteries if green hydrogen is used that was produced using biomethane or wind power. We were able to prove that in a study.

Case Study

Factory logistics at Mercedes Benz

Mercedes-Benz is relying on forklift trucks with hydrogen fuel cell propulsion. Vehicles produced by Linde Material Handling are enabling the carmaker to run its factory logistics even more efficiently and sustainably. Additional advantages of forklifts with hydrogen fuel cell propulsion are explained by Mark Hanke, head of components predevelopment at Linde Material Handling.

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