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FedEx Freight has a special delivery for America’s clean energy economy: a fleet of hydrogen powered forklifts.

All 35 electric forklifts at FedEx Freight’s Springfield, MO service center will be converted to hydrogen fuel cell power. The $2.8 million project will be completed in a few weeks and was partially funded through a grant from the Recovery Act.

The energy makeover is “the best of both worlds,” says Dennis Beal, vice president of physical assets at FedEx Freight. “The vehicles will be emission-free and will provide the benefits of electrical power forklifts without having to plug them in to recharge the battery,” Dennis says.

The forklifts will be quieter, easier to operate and cleaner than ones with internal combustion engines. Dennis says the switch to hydrogen power is expected to result in lower maintenance and downtime, increasing productivity at the service center.

The green vehicles will play a crucial role at FedEx Freight. “The fuel cell forklifts will be used in a cross-dock operation,” project manager John King says. “In this type of operation, forklifts unload freight from a trailer and move the freight to another location on the dock.  The freight is then loaded on another trailer or stored for a short time,” John says. 

Workers will undergo a week of training on how to operate and maintain the fuel cells, which are provided by Latham, NY -based Plug Power. Refueling equipment and hydrogen will be supplied by Air Products of Allentown, PA.

The forklift conversion project illustrates FedEx Freight’s commitment to renewable energy.  The company has installed rooftop solar systems at two California distribution centers, switched to energy-efficient lighting at offices and service centers and established a renewable energy education program for employees. Next up for FedEx Freight: a relationship with Vision Industries Corp. to test a hydrogen and electric hybrid tractor.

“We view our business as a business of sustainability,” Dennis says. “We are excited about technological advancements we see today in transportation and look forward to what the future holds in this arena,” he says. “This is good business.”