Cellex Power Products, Inc. (Vancouver) completed a first-round hydrogen fuel cell trial at a Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.(Bentonville, Ark.) distribution center in late July. Based on the positive performance of the technology, Wal-Mart has agreed to support Cellex's second-round of field trials and the commercialization process of fuel cell power systems.

The fuel cell trial gave Wal-Mart the opportunity to understand the potential of fuel cell power, said Rollin Ford, Wal-Mart's executive vice president of logistfuelics and supply chain. "We were impressed with the operational benefits. Working with Cellex enables Wal-Mart to forge ahead on its environmental leadership by embracing new technologies such as fuel cells."

Cellex had four fuel cell power units in operation for two weeks at the Wal-Mart food distribution center in Missouri. Powering its pallet trucks, the fuel cells ran approximately 1.2 to 1.5 times longer than lead-acid batteries. The 3,600-psi compressed hydrogen tanks could be refueled in about one minute. The power units ran without any safety incidents and maintained top power at all times. In contrast, lead acid batteries typically last four to eight hours and lose their ability to deliver consistent voltage as they discharge, resulting in slower travel and lift speeds.

Cellex chose to focus on pallet truck applications because they are key productivity drivers in high-throughput food distribution centers but require less power and are less demanding than typical narrow-aisle or counterbalance lift trucks.

"It's a great entry point to the market as the Cellex product is fundamentally a transparent replacement for a lead acid battery," said Tom Hoying, Cellex v.p. of sales. He predicts that as costs come down and the reliability of fuel cells improve, the economic value for highthroughput, large-fleet users to power all of their lift trucks will become more attractive. Cellex has been working on fuel cells since 1998. A key collaborator on the project, Crown Equipment Corp. (New Bremen, Ohio) will supply electric lift trucks for the next set of hydrogen fuel cell field trials.