In a first-of-its-kind demonstration, the Energy Department, BMW and project partners Ameresco, Gas Technology Institute and the South Carolina Research Authority powered some of the facility’s fuel cell forklifts with hydrogen produced on-site from biomethane gas at a nearby landfill.
The first phase of the landfill gas-to-hydrogen project showed that a viable business case can be made for large scale operation. The second phase of the project confirmed that commercially-available technologies are available to recover fuel cell-quality hydrogen from a landfill gas source. As the final step in the project, several of BMW’s material handling equipment units were fueled with hydrogen from the project equipment with no detectable difference in performance compared to that achieved when fueled by the existing delivered hydrogen at BMW.
Fuel cell forklifts have several advantages compared to standard forklifts that use lead-acid batteries. Unlike batteries, fuel cells can be rapidly refueled in less than three minutes, boosting productivity by eliminating the time and cost associated with battery change-outs and charging that can take up to several hours. Fuel-cell-powered lift trucks can reduce labor cost of refueling and recharging by up to 80 percent and require 75 percent less space as compared to battery recharging equipment. Also, fuel cells provide consistent power throughout work shifts, unlike battery-powered forklifts, which may experience power reductions during a shift.
The fuel cell forklifts are vital to the day-to-day operations of the BMW plant, which manufactures 300,000 cars a year and supports about 8,800 jobs in South Carolina. BMW recently announced a $1 billion expansion plan for this facility that will boost production up to 450,000 cars — including the new BMW X7 model — by 2016 and make it the company’s largest plant in the world.