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Fuel Cells

Low-Cost, High-Performance Hydrogen Storage for Material-Handling Vehicles

Company Name: Hawaii Hydrogen Carriers
Program Office:  Fuel Cells
Location: Honolulu, HI
Award Amount: $300,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): Savannah River National Laboratory


Each year, U.S. companies buy about 66,000 battery-powered forklifts for use in factories and warehouses, where the use of zero-emission vehicles is desirable. But batteries have drawbacks, including slow recharge times, short lifetimes, and decreased power as the battery runs down between charges.

Proton exchange membrane (PEM) hydrogen fuel cells recharge quickly, last longer, and offer constant power levels between refueling. Many companies have been developing PEM fuel cell power packs designed to fit within the standard battery compartment of existing forklifts, and this battery-replacement market has been growing fast. However, the use of high-pressure tanks requires expensive refueling equipment and a compressor, and the high capital cost dissuades many potential customers, especially those with small forklift fleets.

Hawaii Hydrogen Carriers (HHC) is developing a solid-state, metal hydride-based storage solution that costs less and performs better, without requiring high-pressure tanks or the equipment needed to refuel them. This SBV Pilot will allow HHC to access Savannah River National Laboratory's unique metal hydride system testing and modeling capabilities to ensure cost and performance targets. This, in turn, will facilitate HHC's final manufacturing design and cost estimates, enabling HHC to team up with potential partners and customers, construct advanced prototypes, and initiate demonstration projects.


Current battery-powered forklifts used in warehouse and factories have several drawbacks. They require long recharging times, especially because batteries must cool for up to 16 hours after an eight-hour charge. Performance decreases as the battery runs down. Maximum lifespans are only 10,000 hours. And if companies convert these battery-powered forklifts to high-pressure PEM fuel cells, they need to add ballast to the forklift.  

HHC's solid-state hydride PEM fuel cell with metal hydride storage, in contrast, offers rapid recharge times of 10 minutes or less. Performance is consistent between hydrogen refueling stops. Lifespans top out at 20,000 hours. And the product's heavy weight is an advantage in providing ballast for forklifts.


A successful project will lead to introduction of HHC's solid-state, metal hydride-based hydrogen storage solution to the marketplace for use in forklifts by late 2018. Once our hydrogen storage system is introduced to the marketplace in the forklift application, it should be possible to rapidly extend it to other material-handling vehicles where system weight is advantageous, including applications in push-back carts and mining vehicles.

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