California Ports Consider Hydrogen-Powered Forklifts

Hydrogen tank and rechargeable battery pack (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Hydrogen tank and rechargeable battery pack (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

California has always been one of the country’s most progressive states. It was the first state to ban public smoking. It also was the first to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Now California port operators want to be the first to use hydrogen-powered forklifts on a large scale.

California Dreaming?

Hydrogen has long been touted by environmentalists as the cleanest fuel source. But according to the US Department of Energy, it is “still in market infancy as a transportation fuel.”

Electric vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells are just starting to enter the materials handling marketplace, primarily in the testing stage for things like public buses, ground support equipment, and forklifts.

Yet the California Hydrogen Business Council already has unveiled a plan to promote the use of hydrogen-powered forklifts and other vehicles at the state’s enormous ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, two of the nation’s largest and busiest.

The report was developed as a result of a consortium of industry leaders held last November, including representatives from hydrogen producers, port operators, and environmental scientists, and others.

A Three-Tiered Battle Plan

The ultimate goal is to achieve zero emissions at the two Southern California cargo handling facilities. To reach this objective, the group identified three key messages:

  1. Port managers are keenly aware of the need to reduce emissions and have recently delivered an updated Clean Air Action Plan. They are interested in where hydrogen and fuel cells can play a role. Suppliers need to work closely with the players at the ports to understand operations and to match technology solutions appropriately.
  2. Commercial fuel cell and hydrogen systems exist to provide clean mobile power in many types of vehicles and stationary power for onsite operations. The technologies need to be proven in the port environment and available in industrial quantities to move into this market.
  3. Funding sources with various agencies can be accessed to move hydrogen technology into the ports, and port managers are willing and welcoming for further discussion.

Pushing for Clean Air Power Sources

The group conceded that it cannot actually tell port operators what kind of fuel technologies to use. Instead, it can only push for more environmentally friendly solutions.

The next step is to hold follow-up meetings to work out implementation of the plan into action.

Hydrogen used in power cells comes mostly from water through a process called steam reforming, which combines high-temperature steam with natural gas to extract hydrogen. Another

Hydrogen also can be extracted from water through electrolysis, but this method is much more energy intensive.

Currently, most of the hydrogen produced in the  US is used for refining petroleum, treating metals, producing fertilizer, and processing foods.

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