Fuel cell technology gives power to warehouses
Written by Robert Leonberger of Barloworld Handling and Gagan Singh of Oorja Protonics
In 1519, Ponce de León traveled to what is now Florida in his search the Fountain of Youth. His goal was to discover this mystical fountain that would restore one’s youth. Today, maintenance managers and facility managers all over the U.S. share this same exploration spirit in their attempt to discover the magical formula to increase productivity and save money as it relates to their material handling equipment.
In any warehouse or manufacturing facility around the world, if you were to sit the facility manager down and ask him or her as it relates to his material handling equipment, what are areas that cost them the most money, what would he/she say? If these men and women truly have their finger on the pulse of their organization, they would tell you the labor cost from changing batteries and the electricity used charging those batteries were there two biggest expenses (excluding the purchase of new material handling equipment).
So the question then is how much money could your organization save if you were able to cut the battery inventory by 66 percent without affecting productivity? Most companies attempt this by deploying either a fast charge or an opportunity charger set up. Both of these technologies have really come on strong in the past several years and both have their draw backs. Opportunity chargers are a great “tween” charger between regular SCR chargers and Fast Chargers but in most 24 hour and seven-day-a-week applications, Opportunity Chargers are unable to keep up with the demand and are unable to reduce the labor expense of swapping batteries. With a fast charge set up, there is a substantial upfront infrastructure investment.
The average battery for a class III walkie-rider range from $3,100 to $3,500 per battery (includes a single point watering system & blinky LED system). A normal SCR charger cost approximately $2,250. For the purpose of an example, we will use a typical 24 hour and 365-day-per-year application at a cold storage facility using 50 walkie-riders.
The total number of batteries required to sustain this amount of productivity is 150 batteries. The capital investment tied up just in standard batteries alone is $495,000. On average, this facility has to change batteries three times per day per truck to keep up with the demand currently on the forklifts. That is 150 swaps per day and 54,750 swaps per year! The labor cost to swap out the batteries based on a 20 minute battery swap performed by the operator is $461,725. The amount of maintenance required per year on those 150 batteries is roughly $40,500.
The cost of electricity to charge those 150 batteries each year is $117,028. In this example, if we had to replace approximately 5 percent of those batteries due to normal battery wear/tear and failure, the approximate cost would be $26,400.
So what if you were able to reduce $1,275,653 by 66 percent without losing any of your productivity? What if you were able to gain an additional 15 percent productivity per operator per day? That would be like adding an additional six days of work for each operator. What would you be willing to do to save almost $1 million out of your capital expense and operating budget?
This is not a fairy tale or a search for the Holy Grail. This type of technology exists today and can be immediately deployed in your facility without any infrastructure changes.
The technology I am speaking of is the use of fuel cells in your facility. Fuel cell systems have proven to be an economically viable solution for a wide variety of applications. Today, there are many different types of fuel cells on the open commercial market. The one highlighted here is the Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC). A DMFC system can generate electricity quietly and efficiently without any toxic emissions generated while the fuel cell is in operation. DMFC fuel cells have the potential to effectively lower the total logistics and operating cost when deployed in today’s warehouse setting. They require minimal refueling due to the high efficiency of the DMFC power plants which results in less fuel needed per kilowatt hour of electricity.
DMFC fuel cell systems ensure constant power delivery and performance, eliminating the reduction in voltage output that occurs as batteries discharges. Ultimately, this will result in an increased battery life by helping the battery maintain a continuous state of charge, prevents deep discharge and does not allow the battery to overheat.
Biden establishes Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force
The US government is to establish a new body with the express purpose of addressing imbalances and other supply chain concerns highlighted in a review of the sector, ordered by President Joe Biden shortly after his inauguration.
The Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force will “focus on areas where a mismatch between supply and demand has been evident,” the White House said. The division will be headed up by the Secretaries of Commerce, Transportation, and Agriculture, and will focus on housing construction, transportation, agriculture and food, and semiconductors - a drastic shortage of which has hit some of the US economy’s biggest industries in consumer technology and vehicle manufacturing.
“The Task Force will bring the full capacity of the federal government to address near-term supply/demand mismatches. It will convene stakeholders to diagnose problems and surface solutions - large and small, public or private - that could help alleviate bottlenecks and supply constraints,” the White House said.
In late February, President Biden ordered a 100 day review of the supply chain across the key areas of medicine, raw materials and agriculture, the findings of which were released this week. While the COVID-19 health crisis had a deleterious effect on the nation’s supply chain, the published assessment of findings says the root cause runs much deeper. The review concludes that “decades of underinvestment”, alongside public policy choices that favour quarterly results and short-term solutions, have left the system “fragile”.
In response, the administration aims to address four key issues head on, strengthening its position in health and medicine, sustainable and alternative energy, critical mineral mining and processing, and computer chips.
Support domestic production of critical medicines
- A syndicate of public and private entities will jointly work towards manufacturing and onshoring of essential medical suppliers, beginning with a list of 50-100 “critical drugs” defined by the Food and Drug Administration.
- The consortium will be led by the Department of Health and Human Services, which will commit an initial $60m towards the development of a “novel platform technologies to increase domestic manufacturing capacity for API”.
- The aim is to increase domestic production and reduce the reliance upon global supply chains, particularly with regards to medications in short supply.
Secure an end-to-end domestic supply chain for advanced batteries
- The Department of Energy will publish a ‘National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries’, beginning a 10 year plan to "develop a domestic lithium battery supply chain that combats the climate crisis by creating good-paying clean energy jobs across America”.
- The effort will leverage billions in funding “to finance key strategic areas of development and fill deficits in the domestic supply chain capacity”.
Invest in sustainable domestic and international production and processing of critical minerals
- An interdepartmental group will be established by the Department of Interior to identify sites where critical minerals can be produced and processed within US borders. It will collaborate with businesses, states, tribal nations and stockholders to “expand sustainable, responsible critical minerals production and processing in the United States”.
- The group will also identify where regulations may need to be updated to ensure new mining and processing “meets strong standards”.
Partner with industry, allies, and partners to address semiconductor shortages
- The Department of Commerce will increase its partnership with industry to support further investment in R&D and production of semiconductor chips. The White House says its aim will be to “facilitate information flow between semiconductor producers and suppliers and end-users”, improving transparency and data sharing.
- Enhanced relationships with foreign allies, including Japan and South Korea will also be strengthened with the express proposed of increasing chip output, promoting further investment in the sector and “to promote fair semiconductor chip allocations”.