A test currently under way will help answer that question. At a facility in Capitol Heights, MD, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is using hydrogen fuel cells to power forklifts, pallet jacks, tow motors and other equipment used to move mail and equipment.

Currently, USPS uses lead-acid battery systems in more than 23,000 powered industrial vehicles. Lead acid batteries can be costly to maintain and operate because of their limited run-time capabilities, long recharging cycles and limited life cycles when compared to hydrogen fuel cells. There also are environmental, health and safety risks, and lead-acid batteries are subject to U.S. federal reporting requirements through the Environmental Protection Agency.

Hydrogen fuel cells could deliver operational, financial and environmental benefits. They have long maintenance intervals, short refueling times, reliable voltages and clean operations. We anticipate the technology will reduce operator, equipment and warehouse inefficiency and allow the Postal Service to recover a significant number of operational hours and save millions of dollars per year. Replacing lead-acid batteries with hydrogen fuel cells will also reduce health and safety risks to equipment operators by reducing operator exposure to sulfuric acid, as the only byproducts of hydrogen fuel cells are electricity, heat and water.

The data collected during our pilot test will be used to measure the benefits of hydrogen fuel cell technology in our operating environment and whether it’s feasible to deploy the technology in powered industrial vehicles throughout our processing and distribution network. Additionally, two facilities are currently under review for expansion of hydrogen fuel cell technology. If a good candidate is identified, we’ll proceed with a pre-design hydrogen infrastructure assessment and battery room electricity consumption baseline which will be used to develop a site-specific business case.