When it comes to exploring new technologies, Wal-Mart isn't stopping with RFID. The mega retailer currently has tests under way to determine the feasibility of replacing the traditional lead acid batteries in its forklift trucks with fuel cells.
In a four-month pilot project, Wal-Mart is using 14 Cellex hydrogen fuel cells to power trucks used in two Ohio DCs. The objective of the trial is to determine how the fuel cells stack up against traditional batteries in both performance and health and safety benefits. The fuel cells being tested are said to increase productivity by enabling trucks to stay on the floor longer, and to provide safety benefits by eliminating the need to handle lead and acid as is required with industrial batteries.
The trial's outcome could have far-reaching environmental implications. Given its size and global presence, the retailer could achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gases and other pollutants. "Wal-Mart's leadership in testing hydrogen fuel cells is very important not only for the material handling sector but also for the global environment," says Tom Hoying, vice president of sales and marketing at Cellex.
The project, a consortium led by Cellex Power Products Corp., has received a $1 million grant through the Third Frontier Fuel Cell Initiative. BOC, a global hydrogen supplier, is supplying hydrogen for the trial. New Bremen, Ohio-based Crown Equipment Corp. has supplied pallet trucks for the testing at Wal-Mart's DC in Grove City, Ohio. In addition, OKI Systems, a lift truck servicing dealer, is providing service and support. The Cellex units use fuel cell stacks from Ballard Power Systems Inc., a developer of zero-emission proton exchange membrane fuel cells.