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Are Fuel Cell Forklifts the First Commercial Hydrogen Vehicles?

Are the first commercial vehicles actually hydrogen powered forklifts and lift palette trucks? And are the first commercial H2 fueling stations the hydrogen stations that power these vehicles?

If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know that I’ve talked about hydrogen fuel cell powered forklifts for large warehouses for the past 4 years now. The field of fuel cell forklifts is growing so fast that gas giant Praxair has just struck a deal with Powertech to sell hydrogen fueling stations just for the forklift industry.

Not to be left out, Air Products is opening their warehouse hydrogen fueling stations in Pottsville, Pennsylvania to power 50 fuel cell palette trucks at grocery giant Wegmans. These are not just prototypes but commercial sales and operations.

Some of the biggest names in the industry are buying or trying out hydrogen fuel cell forklifts and palette trucks plus fueling stations including Wegmans, Walmart, Coca-Cola, Genco, Whole Foods and Central Grocers.

According to the National Hydrogen Association: “By the end of 2008, there were approximately 210 hydrogen-powered light-duty vehicles on U.S. roads. In 2008, they drove a total of 1.1 million miles, fueled 11,000 times, and consumed 26,000 kilograms of hydrogen … By the end of 2008, there were 200 hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts operating in the U.S. These forklifts consumed at least 20,000 kg of hydrogen and were in operation at 16 sites in nine states.”

If you compare the numbers, at the end of 2008, there were approximately 210 hydrogen powered light duty vehicles in the U. S. compared to 200 hydrogen fuel cell forklifts. Also by the end of 2008, hydrogen cars had consumed 26,000 kilograms of hydrogen while fuel cell forklifts consumed 20,000 kilograms.

Since 2008, the hydrogen fuel cell forklift market has grown 100 percent each year. And if you throw in hydrogen fuel cell palette trucks into the mix as well, then now that it is May 2010 we can guess that the number of hydrogen fuel cell forklifts and palette trucks in warehouses combined have surpassed the number of hydrogen cars and vehicles on the road.

And many of the forklifts have passed the prototype stage and are being sold commercially such as at Wegmans. While hydrogen fuel cell cars are the darlings of the hydrogen vehicle industry, history is teaching us another lesson that things aren’t always what they seem.

The first fuel cell vehicle ever built was not a car or truck, but was rather a hydrogen fuel cell powered Allis Chalmers tractor. And, so the first commercial hydrogen fuel cell vehicles may historically turn out to be fuel cell forklifts.

Sure there are some production line built hydrogen fuel cell cars for lease such as from Honda (and Daimler in the near future), but a lease is not a sale. And when you start seeing vehicles repeatedly sold to more and more clients, what else can you do but say that these are the first commercial production hydrogen fuel cell vehicles?

Tractors and forklifts are the modern day workhorses, so it makes sense that these vehicles would lead the charge towards a new energy future.

About Hydro Kevin Kantola

Hydro Kevin Kantola
I'm a hydrogen car blogger, editor and publisher interested in documenting the history and the progression of hydrogen cars, vehicles and infrastructure worldwide.

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