Kion Group developing fuel cells to power its industrial trucks

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by Emily Atkins

The KION Group is spending 11 million euros to develop its own hydrogen fuel cells.

The company plans to launch its own 24 V fuel cell system for warehouse equipment in spring 2023, and will supply the first forklift trucks with its own fuel cell systems this year.

“As of today, the KION Group will be the only manufacturer of forklifts and warehouse equipment in the European market to produce its own fuel cells, something that truly sets us apart,” says Rob Smith, CEO of the KION GROUP AG.

“There is huge demand from our customers and we hope that this technology will allow us to meet ever-increasing calls for intralogistics to become more resource-conscious and sustainable, while at the same time also meet demands for rapid refueling.”

Industrial trucks

In fuel cell systems, energy is obtained through a chemical reaction between oxygen (O2) and hydrogen (H2), which feeds a compact lithium-ion battery. This hybrid combination powers the forklift truck by supplying the drive and lifting motors with energy.

The fuel cell generates the electrical energy required to operate the forklift truck directly on board. The only by-products generated during “cold combustion” are heat, water vapor, and pure water.

Because fuel cells generate no emissions during operation, they are safe for use in warehouses. If the hydrogen also comes from regenerative sources, e.g., biogas or electrolysis from sun or wind energy, it is climate neutral.

Fully refilling the tank takes just one to three minutes. This helps minimize interruptions and increase the availability of forklifts – an advantage for multi-shift operation and for large fleets.

They contain no toxic acids or other pollutants, a real plus not just in terms of recycling, but also for daily operation. This makes the fuel-cell drive an attractive alternative to a lead-acid battery, particularly in hygiene-critical industries such as the pharmaceutical and food industries.

Hydrogen production

Alongside the development and production of fuel cell systems, the Group is also installing its own hydrogen production at its Aschaffenburg site. Construction on a state-funded hydrogen filling station including an electrolyzer is nearly finished. After construction work on the hydrogen infrastructure is completed, 21 hybrid fuel cell systems will be put into operation and will replace the majority of the forklifts with combustion engines that are currently in operation at the site.

Decades of experience

KION subsidiary Linde Material Handling GmbH (Linde MH) has been focusing on this technology since 1997 and began series production of its first trucks with this technology in 2010. Around 80 percent of its models are available with fuel-cell drive technology, including pallet trucks, tractors or reach trucks, and counterbalanced trucks.

STILL is currently operating one of Europe’s largest fleets of forklift trucks with hydrogen drive for a customer in France. KION subsidiary STILL has also partnered with Hydrogentle GmbH to be able to better advise and support its customers in all things fuel cell technology. The partnership is aimed at planning special plant engineering projects, producing feasibility analyses, and advising customers on the topic of hydrogen infrastructure, from initial conversations through to the supply of complete hydrogen infrastructure for filling industrial trucks.

The KION Group is one of the world’s largest providers of industrial trucks and supply chain solutions. Based on revenue for 2021, the KION Group is the leading overseas manufacturer in China, and including domestic manufacturers, the third-largest supplier there.

At the end of 2021, more than 1.6 million industrial trucks and over 8,000 installed systems from the KION Group were in use by customers from all manner of sectors and of varying sizes on six continents. The group currently has around 40,000 employees and generated revenue of €10.3 billion in the 2021 financial year.