In 2016 the United States Postal Service (USPS) piloted the use of hydrogen fuel cells in place of lead-acid batteries to power industrial vehicles (forklifts, pallet jacks, tow motors, for example) used at its National Distribution Center in Washington DC.
Currently, lead-acid battery systems power over 23,000 industrial vehicles across the company’s operations and are used to move mail and empty equipment. Unfortunately, lead-acid batteries have limited run-time capabilities, long recharging cycles, and are costly to operate and maintain. Since launching the pilot scheme, USPS has observed several benefits to making the switch to hydrogen fuel cells. These include: improving operator, equipment, and warehouse efficiency; recovering thousands of operational hours; and reducing energy consumption.
Replacing lead-acid batteries with hydrogen fuel cells has also helped to mitigate the occupational health and safety risks posed to USPS employees, by removing on-site regulated waste from the use of lead-acid batteries by over one hundred tonnes. USPS continues to monitor the technology’s performance with a view to finalising the performance evaluation of the hydrogen fuel cells’ efficacy. In addition, the postal operator’s sustainability team will look to validate the business case for hydrogen fuel cells over lead-acid batteries and demonstrate its positive return on investment for the organisation.