Fuel cells, which work like batteries but don’t run down or need recharging, are ideal for powering material handling equipment, like forklifts and airport baggage carts, because they reduce recharging time and cut carbon pollution. This is helping them become more mainstream in the U.S., with more than 4,000 vehicles in operation in 2012, and this year, they might even be helping bring you holidays to you. | Photo courtesy of Plug Power, Inc.

With all of the hustle and bustle that comes with the holidays, it’s easy to not think about how presents and food get to stores. But next time you’re at the airport or a shop picking up a last-minute gift, you might see a clean energy technology -- fuel cells -- helping bring your holidays to you.

Fuel cells are ideal to use in ground support equipment, like forklifts, airport baggage carts and lift trucks -- they work like batteries but don’t run down or need recharging. They produce electricity and heat through an electrochemical process, and when hydrogen is used for the fuel, their only other by-product is water.

If those holiday presents or groceries you bought were stocked in a warehouse, a fuel cell-powered forklift may have placed them there or transported them to the plane. Retail and food distribution companies in North America, like Walmart and Coca Cola, are using fuel cells instead of batteries in their forklifts, reducing the space and time needed for recharging. And FedEx is exploring ways to use fuel cells to power the ground support equipment, like baggage carts, that are used to load their airplanes. In fact, fuel cell-powered material handling equipment is becoming more mainstream in the U.S. with more than 4,000 lift trucks and forklifts in operation in 2012.

The holiday season can often bring wintery storms and power outages, affecting homes and businesses alike. Commercial buildings, retail stores and multi-family residential buildings that use stationary fuel cells in power generation don’t have to worry about power outages. That means your eggnog stays fresh in your refrigerator, your electronics stay powered and the lights on your tree stay sparkling. Next time you're stranded, you can rest assured your cell phone will work now that telecom companies like Sprint are using fuel cells as backup power for cell phone towers. Also, with companies like Apple and eBay using fuel cells to power their data centers, you will be able to access all of your holiday pictures and other personal data being stored in the cloud.

In addition to making your holidays easier, fuel cells offer a broad range of benefits for the environment by reducing carbon pollution and cutting our oil consumption. With these benefits -- plus the cost of fuel cells has dropped more than 50 percent since 2006 -- it should be no surprise that in 2012 approximately 30,000 fuel cell systems were shipped worldwide.

Not to mention, fuel cell electric vehicles are on their way. Many automakers like GM, Honda, Toyota and Hyundai have announced that commercial fuel cell powered cars will be on the road in the next few years. Who knows? Soon Santa may be able to give Rudolf a rest and drive his fuel cell-powered sleigh on Christmas! 

Sunita Satyapal
Sunita Satyapal is the Director of EERE's Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office.
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