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Scandinavian fuel cell can reduce CO2 emissions from goods transport

The fuels cell that four Scandinavian industrial companies are developing in collaboration with SINTEF could supply power to trailers and fork-lift trucks.

The electricity generated by this “mini power-station” could be capable of stopping heavy goods vehicle engines from having to run in neutral when their drivers are resting, and replace the use of diesel fuel in fork-lift trucks.

In the USA alone, HGVs that run in neutral during rest pauses generate 1.1 million tonnes of CO2 a year, more than the total emissions produced by all Norwegian road transport.

A single fork-lift truck powered by fuel cells can reduce CO2 emissions by the equivalent of eight private cars.

Volvo Technology AB, StatoilHydro ASA, the Danish company H2 Logic AS, Powercell Sweden AB and SINTEF have joined forces to develop a new hydrogen-driven fuel-cell system that will be an important aspect of efforts to greatly reduce CO2 emissions of this sort.

Specially developed for winter conditions

Hydrogen can be generated by using electricity to break down water into hydrogen and water, or fossil fuels into hydrogen and CO2.

Hydrogen-powered fuel cells are not a new invention, but the fuel cell in the fork-lift truck is a special version, of which few already exist in the world. The fuel cell can be powered by hydrogen generated from the diesel fuel carried by the truck.

Fuel cells are small power stations, and when they are powered by hydrogen, their only waste product is water. The new Scandinavian system has been specially developed for operation at sub-zero temperatures. Fork-lift trucks using the new system can therefore be operated outdoors on cold winter days, and in cold-stores.

Mini power-stations in HGVs and fork-lift trucks

This fuel cell is ideal for use as a mini power-station in HGVs and fork-lift trucks, and could potentially offer significant environmental benefits. In HGVs, the fuel-call system could eliminate running in neutral at night and during obligatory rest periods. In fork-lift trucks it would completely replace the use of diesel fuel.

Of the 2.3 million HGVs on the road in the USA, 600,000 are fitted with sleeping alcoves. In these vehicles, the diesel engine is kept going in neutral in order to supply power for heating,  air-conditioning, lighting, fridge and TV. HGVs of this type are estimated to be run in neutral for 1800 hours (almost 11 weeks) a year, generating a total of 11 million tonnes of CO2 a year in the USA alone.

Large diesel-powered fork-lift trucks are often used so intensively in industry that the CO2 from a single truck is as much as that emitted by eight private cars.

Scandinavian project

The Powercell company has started to develop a “mini power-station” for HGVs, an important component of which is the Scandinavian fuel cell. A very large proportion of the CO2 emissions from HGVs as they run in neutral could be eliminated by means of this system.

This was the background for AB Volvo and its Scandinavian partners starting to develop the new fuel-cell system. The Scandinavian energy research sector found that this was a very interesting concept, and have invested NOK 4.4 million in the project.

In warehouses and harbour facilities, the fuel cell will make it possible to power large fork-lift trucks by electricity, replacing diesel fuel and in this way improving the work environment, as well as offering benefits in the form of lower CO2 emissions.

Other areas of application

Fuel cells of this type will also find other applications. At first, the Scandinavian fuel cell will be adapted for use in pleasure boats.

By Svein Tønseth