BFNT Factory Going Green with Hydrogen Forklifts
Quiet, emission-free forklifts powered by hydrogen fuel cells are now moving materials around the Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire (BFNT) plant in Aiken County, South Carolina. BFNT officials, along with the Economic Development Partnership of South Carolina, unveiled at the plant on March 31 a new “green-powered” forklift fleet that is replacing traditional battery-powered forklifts. Officials also announced the installation of a hydrogen fuel pump across from the plant that will be used by BFNT as well as other surrounding businesses. The plant is exchanging 23 forklifts this year and 20 in 2009 to create an all-hydrogen fleet. The fuel cells are a direct replacement that last longer than batteries and save time by refuelling instead of recharging.
“We are very excited about this new green initiative,” said Plant Manager Mike Rose. “This is a natural step for a technology-focused company like Bridgestone. Using this cutting-edge technology in a practical way helps our teammates and plant visitors get familiar with this clean, alternative energy. We’re proud to be among the first in the neighbourhood to use this green, clean fuel in our material movers.”
The project expands on BFNT’s success using hydrogen fuel cells to run industrial vehicles at other facilities. BFNT’s current hydrogen-powered vehicles run two to three times as long on a hydrogen fuel cell and take one-fourth of the time to refuel compared with battery-powered vehicles. Despite the upfront cost of hydrogen fuel infrastructure, these changes provide a positive financial return on investment and present a viable alternative to traditional vehicles.
“The use of alternative energy sources, like hydrogen fuel cells, is key to our state’s economic future,” said Fred Humes, Director of the Economic Development Partnership. “When a company like Bridgestone Firestone makes a commitment to take the lead using alternative energy, it’s a true testament to its dedication to the environment and our community.” Humes is also the Founding Chairman of the Board of Directors for the South Carolina Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Alliance.
In addition to being environmentally friendly, hydrogen fuel cells improve workplace safety, says BFNT, by eliminating the hazards associated with changing heavy fork truck batteries. The longer fuel cell life also reduces the number of times forklift vehicles needing to be driven near pedestrian-occupied areas.
The passenger and light truck tyre manufacturing facility began working with hydrogen fuel cell technology manufacturer Plug Power on a prototype fuel cell project in January 2007. This is Bridgestone’s fifth order for these power units, known as GenDrive, in less than two years. Since delivery of the first units in early 2006, reports Plug Power, the GenDrive units have logged more than 10,000 operating hours without service disruption.