A collaboration between Honda and Briggs Equipment, Britain's largest forklift dealer, with Government financial backing, has produced the world's first "truly green" engine emissions that will not only save lives and misery from pulmonary and other killer diseases caused by NOx and other toxins but help the world to achieve its targets on global warming. The motive power project is unique for two reasons; a converted Yale forklift uses lithium-ion battery technology (80v) charged by a hydrogen fuel cell and secondly it uses hydrogen generated from solar power via an on site electrolyser rather than a conventional natural gas process. The project, developed at Honda's UK Swindon plant, is also innovative in that all this technology fits in a standard DIN size battery compartment.
Hydrogen fuel cells have been powering forklifts for a few years now and are especially finding favour among American big forklift fleet users. Their key advantage over lead-acid batteries is the longevity of the fuel cell, typically 10 years, their quick charging over a few minutes, compared with eight hours or more for lead-acid, the abolition of costly batteries and storage/changeover facilities in multi-shift operations, and no drop off with truck performance towards the end of shift as there is no voltage droop. Maintenance is also 1.5 times lower and the performance more or less on a par with other motive power fuels. One big drawback, however, was the pollution aspect, because while clean at the point of use it was not clean at the point of hydrogen production owing to the use of fossil fuels to make the hydrogen.
A Briggs spokesperson confirmed to this writer that this remarkable project is aimed at replacing lead-acid batteries, though diesel engines can be converted but the technology is only suitable for delivery vans owing to space constraints. Richard Close, Briggs Equipment CEO, said: "The project has proved what can be achieved. The challenge is now to extend this as widely as possible."
Although rightly hailed as a breakthrough as a proving ground for future development in emission-free forklift technology it is recognized that in its current form this process would not be viable for small fleets and would need the benefit of scale and further efficiencies to make it universally realistic. So what size forklift fleet is required to make this technology viable, this writer asked Briggs. The response was non committal on size but a spokesperson said: "If high purity hydrogen is available then all that is required is a suitable compressor to make the gas available for the fuel cell. We think that the first large scale commercial use will be at a big distribution centre, probably with some government grant assistance to get the project going." Nevertheless, said Briggs, "cost reduction will come with volume and that is linked to the availability of fuel."
This development may not be confined to industrial trucks. So far the project consortium has focused on creating a whole system from solar as its source to hydrogen as the output fuel to run vehicles -- converted vans running normal duty patterns -- as well as forklifts operating on site. The consortium intends to investigate hydrogen as a means to provide power to Honda's manufacturing plant in the future. If that process were extended to factories world-wide it would be one giant step for mankind in the struggle to clean up the planet. Meanwhile, Honda, Briggs and the British Government have earned a small but well-deserved bow.