Hydrogen Fuel Cell-Powered 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!


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 opens in a new tab, 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.


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 opens in a new tab 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:

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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!

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