In the largest market for electric powertrains, the pallet truck segment (in 2011 the worldwide sales volume came to 950,000 units), exclusively battery-powered vehicles cause limited productivity, particularly in multi-shift operation. The critical factors here are the vehicles‘ restricted range and the length of time it takes to recharge their batteries.
Using fuel cells as range extenders is a pioneering approach to solving the problem. In E-LOG-BioFleet, an Austrian Electric Mobility Flagship Project, the advantages of this approach as regards operability, user benefits and freedom from pollution are being demonstrated. HyCentA Research GmbH is carrying out the project in collaboration with partners in industry and research (OMV, FRONIUS International GmbH, Linde Fördertechnik GmbH, DB Schenker and Joanneum Research Forschungsgesellschaft mbH).
Pioneering technology and infrastructure
For the first time in Austria, battery-powered vehicles used in materials handling have been converted to hybrid operation with a fuel cell range extender. They use a power pack developed by FRONIUS International GmbH, comprising fuel cell, pressurized hydrogen storage, lithium-ion accumulators and control electronics. The system has been certified and installed in 12 Linde T20AP pallet trucks instead of the original lead-acid accumulators. Hydrogen is supplied carbon-neutral via a local reformer unit which extracts hydrogen from biomethane. For the first time in Europe a hydrogen refuelling station has been installed inside a warehouse, certified and started up.
The project embraces the entire spectrum of value creation, from developing and fabricating components for powertrain, storage system, the vehicle as a whole and the infrastructure, all the way to maintenance and service. It contributes to augmenting Austria‘s technological lead in the field of range extenders for materials handling applications.
Experience with demo operation
The converted vehicles are tested since June 2013 in an industrial setting (at DB Schenker in Hörsching). Day-by-day operation in demanding multi-shift conditions has successfully demonstrated how reliable the fleet of vehicles and the infrastructure are. The combination of hybrid power strategy and regenerative braking results in high driving-cycle efficiency (up to 53 %). As refuelling takes less than 3 minutes, the trucks are always available – which means greater flexibility with unchanged performance. Two more units are in use at BMW‘s Leipzig plant, as part of the H2intradrive project.
In the next two years demo operation will continue, to obtain valuable findings as regards service life, user acceptance and behaviour, and maintenance and service needs, in real-life circumstances and with the system gradually aging. The aim here is to achieve the prerequisites for efficient, competitive market entry.