Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Hydrogen Fuel Cell-Powered Forklifts

By Joe Strong, November 1, 2009  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Joe Strong

forklifts I work in a part of Whole Foods Market that our customers probably don't think about very much - one of our regional distribution centers. Here in Maryland, my facility stocks and moves most of the product that you find on the shelves in our Mid-Atlantic Region stores. We're moving pallets of food around all day and we do that with a lot of forklifts and pallet jacks. Each of those forklifts has a 2000-pound lead-acid battery. In fact, each forklift has two huge batteries - one in use and one being recharged. A battery charge only lasts about 7 hours. That means that every one of those forklifts needs a 2000-pound battery changed for every shift. That's 14,000 battery changes in a year, totaling about 4000 labor hours. Wow! forklift2

When we first started talking about hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts, we were looking at a cost of about $17,000 per fuel cell. Ouch. A lead-acid battery costs $3500. But then everything changed when GENCO received a $6.1 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Plug Power, a clean energy solutions company, connected us with GENCO and a deal was born. They could now offer us the hydrogen fuel cell-powered batteries for $3,000 each. With the other transition costs involved, turns out that there wasn't a cost savings to us but the deal was net zero. forklift1

Some companies might have stopped right there. Who needs the headache of a big change if it doesn't affect the bottom line? But that's what is different about Whole Foods Market. We don't just look at the numbers. We guide our business by our Core Values and two of those are about supporting and caring for our team members and the environment. Remember those 14,000 battery changes? That involves a team member dealing with a very heavy piece of equipment. Of course we have a machine that lifts the 2000-pound battery, but it is definitely safer for them to switch to refueling the fuel cell, which takes less than a minute. That's only 250 hours a year instead of 4000 - we're sure they can find better things to do with their time! Check out this video that shows the complete re-fueling process:

Switching to fuel cell technology will also allow us to reduce our carbon footprint by the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the use and charging of those lead-acid batteries. We expect this conversion to save up to 80% of emissions - roughly the equivalent of removing two passenger vehicles from the road per year for each forklift truck powered by fuel cells. My facility is excited to be piloting this project for Whole Foods Market and there is already a ton of interest from our distribution centers in other regions. That could add up to a lot of reduced emissions…and a lot of happy team members!




denise petersen says ...
rock on, wfm!!
11/01/2009 6:27:18 AM CST
screwdestiny says ...
That's really awesome. Let's hope that in the future other distribution centers will catch on!
11/01/2009 3:22:40 PM CST
Haderade says ...
Yet another reason to love Whole Foods, besides their awesome food. I've worked warehousing and I know how those things work. Its amazing to be able to refill the fuel cell and continue on your way. Kudos!
11/01/2009 5:56:18 PM CST
Ira says ...
Hi there, I really commend Whole Foods for making this move. I also have to give credit to the government for making all of this possible. I support funds given towards these sustainable goals for reasons exactly like this! I just have one question...what happened to all of the old lead-acid batteries?
11/03/2009 5:03:29 AM CST
Vancouverite says ...
This is a great story. However, I am curious about the statement that the fuel cells resulted in 80% less GHG emissions. I'd be interested to see the numbers behind that. While hydrogen can and will do many great things, it isn't an energy solution in itself because it has to be produced using energy or fossil fuels (whether by electrolysis of water using electricity or by reforming natural gas to make H2). So the equation is complicated. If your electrical energy comes from coal burning power plants, then switching to H2 is a good idea emissions wise. But if your electricity comes from hydro power, and your H2 comes from natural gas, then you may be creating more GHG emissions by going to fuel cells. Well, I'm off now to go shopping at WF.
11/23/2009 6:57:22 PM CST
lynda harmon says ...
that is too cool....
12/02/2009 5:11:05 PM CST
Jenny says ...
On the important topic of energy use, are there plans for Whole Foods stores to change from open to closed refrigerator cases? It's such a significant use of energy, with the only advantage to open cases being a more appealing visual display. Of course I realize that translates to sales dollars, but considering the state of things it's a very logical place where we could all agree to go back to the more sensible, if slightly less convenient, way of maintaining perishables. And I promise to still shop Whole Foods even if I have to open doors to reach yogurt! :-) I would love to see Whole Foods become the major grocery store chain to lead the charge on this one. It's such a common-sense move that I'm sure I'm not your only customer who would be glad to see the change.
01/06/2010 6:25:57 PM CST
Hal Helms says ...
I'm not clear on the adjusted cost of $3000. If this is a subsidized price then we are still a long way from a marketable product. But at least its a start.
04/06/2011 11:38:59 AM CDT
M Sharp says ...
Great article. I really appreciate large companies such as Whole Foods taking steps even behind the scenes to minimize their carbon footprint. Who would've thought that forklifts are such an energy vampire!? Well done Whole Foods!
07/26/2011 4:06:21 PM CDT
Adam M says ...
I didn't know that Whole Foods was going to go through with the fuel cell. This is a great value in your warehouse, hopefully soon it will be more common and more cost efficient. I believe that now all of the govt money is gone so good luck buying a fuel cell for $3,000. Plug power is a great supplier, he is a video from another supplier from Promat. I find this video very interesting, http://warehouseiq.com/video-nuvera-shows-off-hydrogen-fuel-cells-for-lift-trucks-at-promat-2011/
08/30/2011 9:31:34 AM CDT
Forklift says ...
I like this is so nice.Is very useful.
09/30/2011 1:50:48 AM CDT
Chicago Forklift says ...
That's such a great idea. I can't wait for more battery powered options to be available. Especially around food I would think it extremely important to not pump fossil fuel into the air around it. Sincerly, Jared Haquin
10/13/2011 2:52:50 PM CDT
Ben says ...
If only more businesses would adopt new technology. Forklifts can be used for much more than just moving pallets. If fuel cell technology becomes more mainstream and the alternate uses for forklifts continue to grow, there would be just that much more carbon savings. Here is a good blog post that details the alternate uses of forklifts: <a href="http://hofequipment.com/blog/101-Uses-For-Your-Forklift-Fork-Truck-bp4.html" rel="nofollow">101 Uses For Your Forklift / Fork Truck</a>
02/16/2012 4:20:19 PM CST
Forklift Hire says ...
Good stuff! Thanks for sharing this wonderful information. It's good to hear that many companies are still concern about the environment and are doing something to minimize their carbon footprint.
05/07/2012 9:08:18 PM CDT
John Poe says ...
[DIRECT RESPONSE - NN] I work for Wholefoods at the Maui store (MMM) . Im on the Green mission tean and would like some feedback on what stores are Hydrogen powered if any. I heard there were a few. Please respond
10/08/2012 1:35:00 AM CDT
Barney says ...
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12/23/2012 6:21:33 PM CST
Bette says ...
Industrial silver has now been used for the past 100 years; unfortunately it has not had much notoriety as precious metal. The fairs also germinated the concept of orders for goods, and the creation of merchandise specifically for trading in an open market. Another advantage of silver investing is that it does not require a huge start-up capital.
01/22/2013 6:16:28 PM CST