Forget the tiger in the tank: it’s all a matter of chemistry

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A fuel cell operates a little like a battery. Unlike a battery, a fuel cell does not run down or require recharging. It will produce energy in the form of electricity and heat as long as fuel is supplied.

Richard Close of Briggs believes there is a future for hydrogen fuel cell technology, although he points out that there could be an issue with the distribution of hydrogen.

The cell consists of two electrodes sandwiched around an electrolyte. Oxygen passes over one electrode and hydrogen over the other, generating electricity, water and heat.

Hydrogen fuel is fed into the positive electrode (anode) while oxygen (or air) enters the cell through the negative electrode (cathode).

A catalyst is used to split the hydrogen atom into a proton and an electron, which take different paths to the cathode. The proton passes through the electrolyte. The electrons create a separate current that can be used before they return to the cathode, to be reunited with the hydrogen and oxygen in a molecule of water.

It is the electric current created by the stream of electrons that is the effective power output of the fuel cell.

Because the fuel cell relies on chemistry and not combustion, emissions from this type of a system would be much smaller than emissions from the cleanest fuel combustion processes.

All the major forklift manufacturers are interested in making use of the technology.

In a presentation at IMHX, Ian Melhuish and Lee Tracy of Hyster’s Global Product Strategy Group pointed out that the technical viability of Hydrogen Fuel Cells had been demonstrated. Most solutions duplicate the physical characteristics of a battery, resulting in a solution that can be deployed with minimal changes to the industrial truck. The economic viability was limited at this point but improving. However, fuel infrastructure was still an issue.

Nissan Motor Corporation in Japan last year reach a deal with General Hydrogen for the use of the Hydricity pack, powered with Ballard fuel cell technology, to replace the battery technology in a Nissan forklift truck.

Ballard’s Mk 902 fuel cell platform was developed for automotive applications, providing systems integrators like General Hydrogen with an alternative to the conventional technologies being used in fork lift applications.

Toyota Industries Corporation (TICO) has succeeded in developing a fuel cell system for forklift use.

The new fuel cell truck has been developed in cooperation with Toyota Motor Corporation which allows TICO to make use of TMC’s technology and to share components in the automotive field.

It plans further development of high-performance, low-cost fuel cell systems.

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