Supply Chain News / Green Matters / eSupply Chain

DOE & Fuel Cells

September 4, 2013
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Nuvera Fuel Cells, in a new partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Thermo King, a manufacturer of transport temperature control systems for a variety of mobile applications and a brand of Ingersoll Rand, is using advanced fuel cell technology to power transport refrigeration units (TRUs) on tractor trailers used to deliver frozen foods and fresh produce to supermarkets. Using fuel cells in place of the more commonly used diesel generators will cut carbon emissions and reduce noise pollution.

Nuvera's Orion fuel cell will do the work normally done by a small diesel engine, which keeps food and beverage cargo at the proper temperature while the tractor trailer is making deliveries. The DOE-supported demonstration will be conducted by Sysco Corp. and HEB Grocery Company (H-E-B), both based in Texas.

"Nuvera is looking forward to working with PNNL and Thermo King to bring fuel cell technology into an entirely new market," says Gus Block, director of marketing and government affairs at Nuvera. "Sysco and H-E-B are great examples of industry-leading companies that are already taking advantage of the benefits afforded by hydrogen and fuel cell technology."

Quiet operation and zero-emissions from the TRU mean that grocery trucks will be able to make deliveries at any time of day, without creating noise in the neighborhoods they serve or adversely affecting air quality.

"This is a great application for a fuel cell," says Kriston Brooks, the PNNL scientist leading the project. "A transport refrigeration unit traditionally is powered by a small diesel engine or electric motor that drives compressors to cool the cargo. A fuel cell can provide a clean, quiet and efficient alternative by powering the electric motor."

Nuvera is working with Thermo King to develop the fuel cell-powered TRU. The refrigerated trailer will run for at least 400 hours while supporting each demonstration site, delivering goods from the distribution centers to stores or other outlets. The truck will make deliveries for a Sysco food distribution facility in Riverside, Calif., and for H-E-B's food distribution center in San Antonio, Texas.

Both the Sysco and H-E-B facilities already use forklifts powered by fuel cells, an emerging trend in the material-handling industry. The infrastructure used to provide hydrogen for the fuel cell forklifts is already in place at both demonstration sites and will also be used to provide hydrogen to the fuel cell-powered TRUs. The hydrogen is generated on site from natural gas and water using Nuvera's PowerTap hydrogen generator and refueling system, creating an uninterrupted hydrogen supply to fuel cell-powered equipment. Refueling time for the fuel cell-powered TRU will take no longer than for conventional diesel-powered refrigeration units.

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