Linde Material Handling (MH) has created a hydrogen production facility to power 21 fuel cell forklifts in its own fleet. This initiative, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Digital Affairs and Transport (BMDV), coordinated by NOW GmbH, and implemented by Project Management Jülich (PtJ), aims to gather knowledge and expertise. The goal is to offer customers valuable guidance and assistance in utilizing hydrogen for material flow processes. The hydrogen production facility and vehicles were officially inaugurated on May 11th at the Aschaffenburg site, marking a significant milestone in the project’s implementation.
“The topic of energy is emerging as one of the major challenges of this decade and beyond,” Stefan Prokosch, Senior Vice President Brand Management Linde Material Handling, said at the inauguration ceremony. “In our search for potential solutions, we identified hydrogen as an option in the energy mix of the future.” He emphasized that this is particularly relevant for intralogistics applications.
One significant advantage is the ability to quickly refuel industrial trucks with hydrogen, which is crucial for intensive multi-shift operations. Additionally, besides the potential for achieving climate neutrality, this factor stands out as a major benefit. “A three-minute refueling time corresponds to a comparable charging power of about 480 kW,” he explained.
Approximately 2.8 million euros have been dedicated to the development and building of the hydrogen infrastructure. The construction of the hydrogen production facility took approximately eleven months, covering an area of 280 square meters. It was strategically located within the manufacturing and assembly plant. The construction process involved around 50 subcontractors who worked under the supervision of Covalion, a brand associated with Framatome, and Linde Material Handling’s construction department.
“With the commissioning of the facility and forklifts, we ourselves are becoming hydrogen producers and users and will thus be able to further expand our technological expertise. This will eventually also benefit our customers because the experience we gain in planning, building and operating the plant and using the fuel cell forklifts will be passed on to them as part of future material flow projects,” stated Prokosch. At the same time, the decentralized on-site hydrogen infrastructure will serve as a showcase for other interested groups. “We will be demonstrating how the use of renewable energy sources can work in practice,” the brand manager added.
State-of-the-art hydrogen technology in inconspicuous containers
The hydrogen infrastructure consists of various modules, with the central component being a PEM (polymer electrolyte membrane) electrolyzer. This electrolyzer has the capacity to produce 50 kg of hydrogen per day. Using purified and deionized drinking water, the process separates the water into oxygen and hydrogen using green electricity. The hydrogen is then compressed to 450 bar in a separate container and transported to high-pressure storage tanks through a network of pipes and valves. A software-controlled valve system manages the supply line to the dispenser, where employees can easily connect their vehicles for refueling. The refueling process is quick, and the high-pressure storage tank can store up to 120 kg of hydrogen at 450 bar, ensuring sufficient supply even during peak demand periods, such as shift changes.
In total, 21 electric counterbalanced trucks with fuel cell hybrid systems have replaced the previously used IC models. This includes twelve Linde E50s with a load capacity of five tons and nine Linde E35s with a load capacity of 3.5 tons. These trucks are part of the plant fleet and are used for loading and unloading trucks, as well as supplying assembly lines with heavy components. They operate without producing any emissions during their operation. The trucks’ fuel cell systems react hydrogen and oxygen from the ambient air to generate electrical energy, which charges a lithium-ion battery that powers the forklift. The only byproducts of this process are water and heat.
The generation and utilization of hydrogen take place directly within the intralogistics operations. In addition to Linde forklifts, the company also employs other technical solutions. For instance, the Linde:connect fleet management solution includes an explosion-proof access control system that ensures only authorized and trained individuals can access the hydrogen facility. Moreover, the “Safety Guard” assistance solution, which is explosion-proof, regulates the driving speed near the filling station. Finally, the “Linde Energy Manager” solution allows intelligent planning and control of energy consumption throughout the site, minimizing power load peaks and optimizing costs.
Hydrogen technology made by Linde MH
Linde MH has been at the forefront of utilizing hydrogen in intralogistics, pioneering the development of the first fully functional prototype forklift with a fuel cell drive as early as 2000. Since 2010, fuel cell forklifts have been integrated into the company’s regular production, with 80 percent of the series offering the option of a hydrogen drive. These customized solutions include counterbalanced forklifts, tow tractors, and pallet stackers.
Through various studies and projects, Linde MH and its industry and science partners have demonstrated the marketability and economic viability of fuel cell forklifts. This is particularly true when there is an existing hydrogen infrastructure or when highly pure hydrogen is available as a byproduct of operational processes. Fuel cell forklifts are well-suited for intensive multi-shift operations and indoor environments with high annual operating hours, or where space for charging or battery replacement is limited, aiming to eventually eliminate such constraints.
In parallel with the establishment of Linde MH’s hydrogen infrastructure in Aschaffenburg, the parent company, KION GROUP AG, is actively progressing in the development and production of its own fuel cell systems. Linde MH showcased its first proprietary 24-volt system for warehouse equipment, which was developed at the Aschaffenburg site, at the LogiMAT trade fair.
Funding has already been approved for the development of a 48-volt fuel cell system, and the team is diligently working toward swift implementation. By internalizing the development of fuel cell systems and lithium-ion batteries, Linde MH will have the opportunity to design fully integrated fuel cell hybrid systems tailored precisely to the specific requirements of material handling equipment, as outlined by Prokosch.