BMW Manufacturing Co announced it is implementing hydrogen fuel cells to power the plant's material handling equipment. Hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts, tuggers and stackers will be used in BMW's new assembly hall that produces the new BMW X3.
Fuel cells take stored chemical energy, such as hydrogen in this case, and convert it into electrical energy through two internal electro-chemical reactions. The only byproducts of hydrogen fuel cells are heat and water, making this energy choice more efficient than other more conventional energy sources.
"BMW has taken another important step to affirm our global commitment to sustainability," said Josef Kerscher, President of BMW Manufacturing. "There's a clear vision and determination to reach our goal of using renewable energy as much as possible throughout the plant site."
Installation of a storage and distribution center within BMW's existing Energy Center, an 11-Megawatt facility, along with six on-site fueling stations were recently completed by BMW at their only North American manufacturing facility in South Carolina.
Initially, the hydrogen-powered handling fleet will consist of more than 85 pieces of equipment, making it one of the largest hydrogen fuel-cell fleets in the US. In addition to the many other benefits, fuel cells offer a much longer operating life than lead-acid batteries. Fuel cells provide continuous power with no loss of power as the tank nears empty, as opposed to battery-powered equipment that run slower as the battery nears empty.
These units, when full, run on a 2kg fuel tank and run for 8-10 hours. Fuel cell units can be refueled by a driver in less than three minutes at an on-site hydrogen fueling station. On average, it takes about 20 minutes to re-fuel a depleted battery.
Since hydrogen is the only source of energy for the fuel cells being used in the new facility, BMW Manufacturing estimates that this project will avoid 1.8 million kilowatt hours per year of electricity consumption at the plant that would have been used to charge a battery-powered fleet.
The Hydrogen Fuel Cell fleet is the perfect complement to BMW's successful Landfill Gas to Energy initiative started in early 2003. BMW powers approximately 50% of the plant's total energy requirements using methane from a local landfill: a previously wasted resource. Implementation of the landfill gas program reduced CO2 emissions by 92,000 tons per year. To date, the landfill gas project has saved BMW an annual average of $5 million in energy costs.