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Sysco Deploys Hydrogen Powered Pallet Trucks

July 12, 2010 - 2:50pm


Food service distribution company Sysco celebrated the grand opening of its highly efficient distribution center in June in Houston. As part of Sysco's efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, the company deployed almost 100 pallet trucks powered by fuel cells that create only water and heat as by-products.

The hydrogen fuel cell project's cost was partially covered by funding from a $1.2 million grant provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the U.S. Department of Energy's Fuel Cell Technologies Program.  The total project cost was $3.3 million.

The 98 new Raymond Corporation pallet lifts are powered by Plug Power Inc.'s GenDrive fuel cell units and were put to work immediately.

One major advantage of fuel cell-powered lifts is that they operate better in cold temperatures while moving frozen goods. Lead-acid batteries do not react well under cold temperatures, but fuel cells continue to meet or exceed Sysco's needs, despite temperatures in refrigerated areas that reach about 8 degrees below zero.

Using fuel cells also frees up space and cuts the time needed to recharge lead-acid batteries.  The lifts can be recharged in about a minute. The company calculates that it is saving about $24,000 per quarter on labor costs that would have been associated with changing out lead-acid batteries during each shift change.

"Sysco has been a great customer to work with throughout GenDrive's field testing, and we're excited to see them now convert a full Raymond fleet from batteries to fuel cells," Plug Power CEO Andy Marsh stated in a news release. "Sysco is a market leader in adopting green technologies, and we are proud to be a partner in their successful efforts to commercial alternative energy resources."

Sysco is still in the process of comparing its costs of recharging the old lead-acid batteries with the hydrogen refueling costs to see how much money it is saving.