Future technology proves itself in tough day-to-day logistics

Challenge: Maximum availability and opti- misation of the entire fleet. New 58,000 m2 distribution warehouse. Two to three shift operations. Zero-emissions vision for the future.

Solution: 137 warehouse trucks with fuel cell power units, filling stations and processing facility.

STILL products: 36 FM-X driver seated reach trucks, 78 CX-S low level order pickers, 6 EXD-S double deck high lift pallet trucks and 17 EXU-S low lift pallet trucks.

Sector: Forklift truck electronics

Company: International company, 380,000 employees, 12,000 stores in over 30 countries.

Carrefour and STILL realise the largest fuel cell forklift project in Europe.

Besides purely battery-powered electromobility, the hydrogen power unit is considered to be the key technology on the way to a zero-emissions future. While fuel cell technology is only beginning to gain a foothold in the automobile and utility vehicle industries, STILL has equipped Carrefour with a total of 137 fuel-cell-powered warehouse trucks in France. After almost one and a half years in use, it is now clear what advantages this technology has, not only in terms of the ecological aspects, but also for intralogistics.

The future of electromobility begins not on the streets, but in the new Carrefour Supply Chain logistics base in Vendin-Le-Vieil in northern France. The logistics subsidiary of the largest retail group in France stores between 14,000 and 16,000 different products – primarily palletised beverages, food and cosmetics – in its approx. 58,000 m2 logistics centre. Carrefour Supply Chain operates with a network of 60 logistics locations in France. Around 360 stores of various sizes – from wholesale stores to local shops – are supplied by the new logistics base in northern France. “Carrefour Supply Chain is a global company. Our principle business consists of the delivery and subsequent order picking and sending of packages via a logistics platform so that all of our customers in all of our markets find the products they are looking for,” explains site manager Alain Audegond.

Cleaner and more efficient multiple-shift operation

At first glance, the operation in Vendin does not look any different than a traditional distribution warehouse. Here, two to three shift operations pick full and mixed pal- lets with products for the individual stores. The availability of forklifts is of high priority for Carrefour Supply Chain. Classic warehouse handling equipment with lead/ acid batteries required a battery change after one shift. This not only costs time, but requires the appropriate infrastructure mandatory in France in the form of a charging room with appropriate ventilation systems, space for the substitute batteries and changing devices for an ergonomic battery change. For this reason, Carrefour Supply Chain searched for an alternative ecological solution and decided upon fuel-cell-powered warehouse handling equipment. “With the ‘fuel cell’ project, Carrefour wanted to create an innovative solution to reduce its carbon footprint. The warehouse in Vendin was chosen as the pilot location for the realisation of this solution,” reports Arnaud Torchy, Technical Manager for Nord site at Carrefour. As the project partner for intralogistics, STILL equipped a total of 137 its ware- house trucks with fuel cells for use in the EU-supported project ‘HyLIFT-EUROPE’: 36 FM-X driver seated reach trucks, 78 CX-S low level order pickers, 6 EXD-S double deck high lift pallet trucks and 17 EXU-S low lift pallet trucks.

A quick stop at the hydrogen fuelling station replaces battery changing

From the outside, there is no structural differences between the battery-powered and fuel cell powered forklifts. The innovation is hidden inside the battery compartment. This is where the green heart beats: the fuel cell. Hydrogen is converted into electrical power directly on board the truck. This is temporarily stored and is immediately available for use by the power units for driving, hydraulics and auxiliary units. Unlike diesel or LPG forklift trucks, hydrogen-powered trucks do not emit any CO2 or other harmful gases such as carbon monoxide or nitrogen oxide – the only waste product is water. Another significant benefit of using hydrogen as the energy source is the quick and easy refuelling of the trucks: in just three minutes, the fuel cell is refilled and has enough power for an average operating time of up to six hours. The hydrogen storage and processing station is located in the external area in front of the warehouse. From here, the hydrogen is distributed through pipes to a total of three filling stations which have been installed strategically within the warehouse.

The project, which was coordinated by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) and Ludwig-Bölkow Systemtechnik, was realised by Carrefour and STILL together with Air Liquide, as the hydrogen and hydrogen technology supplier, and Plug Power Europe, an industrial hydrogen and fuel cell product provider, as a part- ner for the fuel cell systems. “We are proud to have successfully installed the largest fleet of hydrogen-powered industrial trucks in Europe so far. Since 2013, STILL has regularly implemented hydrogen projects using various different types of trucks. Our goal is to provide our customers with the solution which is best for them. The hydrogen-powered fuel cell is a technology that comes with many advantages, such as maximum availability, for example,” explains Björn Grünke, Product Manager for Energy Systems at STILL.

Experiences from two project phases

Both the delivery of the forklift trucks and the construction of the site took place in two phases: STILL delivered the first 57 warehouse trucks in September 2017. A further 80 trucks were put into operation in January 2018. Alain Audegond is pleased with the performance and handling of the fuel cell forklifts: “By using the hydrogen- powered truck fleet, we were not only able to reduce our CO2 footprint, but also create simplified and more ergonomic handling for our employees through the elimination of the battery change process. Even better, the filling stations do not require a closed room but can be installed directly next to the ramps. What’s more, we require less forklifts in total and no substitute batteries or other infrastructure for battery changes for the fuel cell trucks.”

With this two-phase project, the partners have set a milestone for the use of hydrogen as an alternative energy source and prove that this technology is reliable in tough day-to-day logistics. “The fuel cell is a solution for the future with numerous benefits: improvement of working conditions, reduction of CO2 emissions and a bet- ter performance by the forklifts,” summarises an equally satisfied Arnaud Torchy.

With this project, STILL has proven its problem-solving expertise and shown that it pays off to explore new paths. “The fuel cell is a promising technology which we can use to collect comprehensive information about the best energy technology for the future,” Kai von Berg, Head of Product Management Warehouse Technology and Energy, says confidently. The project is also forward-looking for Carrefour. The positive experiences at Vendin show that the technology offers ecological and economic potential for more roll-outs within the group.