An innovative company in Billerica, Mass., is taking steps to equip a major supermarket chain in the Southwest with high-performance, clean-energy fuel cells for its hundreds-strong forklift fleet. In a recently-started pilot program helped along by money from the Recovery Act, Nuvera Fuel Cells Inc. upgraded 14 forklifts at the South Texas distribution center of H-E-B to test the performance of fuel cells. If H-E-B likes the results, it could deploy additional fuel cells in its forklifts and Nuvera could start hiring new workers into more than 100 green jobs beginning as soon as January 2010.
But first, the technology must prove itself on the warehouse floor.
“They have a certain expectation, and so do we,” says Roberto Cordaro, CEO of Nuvera, about the pilot program.
Cordaro knows his customers want not only a clean-energy product, but also something that will help them increase productivity.
“It needs to make sense from an operational standpoint,” Cordaro says. “It needs to make their fleet operate more effectively than it does today.”
Fuel cells will lower the grocery distributor’s costs by decreasing maintenance times – the batteries in use today take longer to swap out than the time it takes to refuel the cells – cutting materials and labor costs. Just how much cost savings will be realized will be measured in this first deployment. Fuel cells will also reduce the company’s carbon footprint, he adds.
Forklifts powered by fuel cells should not experience any voltage drops over the duration of a shift, offering a performance increase over batteries that could reap big rewards for H-E-B. The demonstration effort has been aided by a $1.1 million award to Nuvera from the U.S. Department of Energy.
When Cordaro took the helm of Nuvera in 2002, he set the company on a course that would push the envelope of fuel cell technology and build an economical, clean-energy power source for use in industrial equipment. After spending 21 years in the automotive industry at Cummins Inc., a major diesel engine manufacturer, Cordaro brought the know-how and drive the company would need to build an ultra-clean power source.
“The challenge and opportunity of building a business around clean-energy power plants were very important factors in my decision to engage with Nuvera,” Cordaro says.
San Antonio-based H-E-B is a privately held grocery store chain with more than 300 stores and 57,000 employees in Texas and northern Mexico.
In April, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Nuvera with up to $1.1 million under the Recovery Act, which helped it maintain its fuel cell demonstration efforts.