FedEx in 2014 will begin using 15 electric tow tractors at its air hubs in Oakland, Calif., and Memphis, Tenn., and that have been retrofitted with hydrogen-powered fuel cells subsidized by the U.S. government.
The U.S. Department of Energy awarded Plug Power of Latham, N.Y., $2.5 million to modify ground-service equipment as part of its energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives, the company announced late last year. FedEx will deploy the technology at the two sites to study the productivity, efficiency and environmental benefits of hydrogen.
Hydrogen fuel cells, which replace lead-acid batteries, are being used to operate forklifts in distribution centers and manufacturing plants, and are now being considered for other applications.
“Ground support equipment is a natural fit for our GenDrive product, and this project allows us to take our prior expertise in the area and further develop it for future commercialization,” Plug Power Chief Executive Officer Andy Marsh said in a news release.
The three-year project will consist of developing, building and testing the fuel system application for airport vehicles. The subsequent deployment and data collection will last for two years, according to a press release issued last fall by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Both Oakland and Memphis airports will use natural gas as a feedstock for hydrogen.
The DOE and some outside analysts say hydrogen fuel cells have the potential to reduce maintenance costs and increase productivity in the airline industry because of reduced need for charging. - Eric Kulisch