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FMC trialing Plug Power, Oorja fuel cells for automatic guided vehicles

Fuel cells are now also being implemented as a power source for automatic guided vehicles (AGVs). Texas-based FMC Technologies is preparing to operate two fleets of AGVs powered by two different types of fuel cell. One will be powered by hydrogen PEM fuel cells from NY-based Plug Power, while the other will utilize direct methanol fuel cell battery-chargers from Oorja Protonics in California.

While the two systems are very different, says Don DelMar, director of engineering for FMC, both promise to improve productivity, according to a report in Modern Materials Handling. This is attributable to either removing the need to swap out batteries for daily recharging, or eliminating the time vehicles spend sitting idle for ‘opportunity’ charging.

Both fuel cell systems are designed to be quick and easy to refuel, and DelMar says both were easy to install. ‘They’re pretty much plug-and-play,’ he says. The main difference between them, he continues, is that the PEM fuel cell from Plug Power is a full energy system that completely replaces the AGV’s traditional lead-acid battery. The Oorja Protonics DMFC is a charging system that works to continually charge a lead-acid battery.

Their other differences, says DelMar, come down to cost and amount of maintenance. ‘With the OorjaPac, you still have batteries that need to be maintained,’ he says. ‘And batteries don’t last forever, so they need to be replaced eventually.’ On the other hand, he admits, ‘the hydrogen fuel cells are still very expensive. I’m not sure how people justify them.’

DelMar admits that the Plug Power and Oorja fuel cell technologies are so new that he’s not sure yet how reliable the systems will be. He will be closely watching the performance of the two fuel cell powered AGV systems once they are up and running. ‘We’ll learn about reliability soon,’ he says.

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