Industry Trends & Engineered Solutions Library

Hydrogen Forklift Conversion Using Seamless Stainless Steel Tubing

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

If you are considering converting your battery powered forklift fleet to hydrogen fuel cell technology, this post will help you understand the benefits in using stainless steel seamless tubing in your operation.  In addition, we will discuss the benefits of converting material handling equipment from traditional methods tohydrogen fuel cell forklifts an eco-friendly option, fuel cells using stainless steel seamless tubing. 

Through the use of seamless tubing in a system, the fuel supply is available via tube trailer or delivery on-site depending on the volume needed.  Seamless coil tubing can be easily laid in a trench or run up the side of a building to connect hydrogen storage to the dispenser where it becomes a usable fuel for forklifts.  Hydrogen lift fleets deliver continuous movement, increased uptime, more runtime, quicker refueling access and a reduced carbon footprint.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of using seamless stainless steel tubing is the ability to withstand high pressure during transportation of the fuel. For example, the weak point in a welded steel pipe is the welded seam, and because a seamless tube has not been welded, it is consistently strong around the entire circumference of the pipe.  Let’s discuss some additional benefits of using seamless tubing in the conversion process.

The Benefits of Seamless Stainless Steel Tubing:

Reduced installation costs

When it comes to cost, labor plays a major role in “the total cost of ownership”.  The reality is that installing continuous length, seamless tubing requires much less time and effort than joining many shorter lengths of Seamless stainless steel coil tubing stick tubing via the welding process.  In fact, some welders may charge up to $2,000 a day for a welding job.  A slightly higher cost for material upfront can create overall savings through the completion of a fuel cell system. 

Custom tempers

To allow for quick and easy connections, stainless steel 316 tubing can be provided as soft annealed or hard tempered which will allow for increased strength when using standard compression or cone and thread  fittings.  This will assist in reducing time and labor during the installation process.

Withstand high pressures

As we discussed in the beginning of this post, a key advantage of seamless stainless steel high pressure tubing is its ability to withstand the extreme pressures associated with transporting hydrogen.  Seamless tubing is 100% seam-free which will help avoid leak points. 

Improved reliability

As mentioned above, long length stainless tubing requires fewer connections then their welded tube counterpart, which reduces the potential for leak points and the potential for other long-term failures. Compared to standard tubing, CNG Tubing with 2.5% min. moly. has superior corrosion resistance.

Increased installer and operator confidence

All seamless 316 tubing is 100% pressure tested and meets or exceeds Positive Material Identification prior to being used in the field.  Seamless stainless steel 316 tubing undergoes rigorous testing to ensure material is defect-free and safe to install.

Fully traceable

All material is fully heat-traceable and lot-traceable, allowing tracking of products from raw material to finished goods.

Cost Savings

On average, an operation’s total cost can be reduced by five percent for each pallet jack and up to ten percent for class I and class II forklifts.  In addition, the average fuel cell system lifetime is 10 years compared to lead acid battery at 3 years.  Fuel Cell conversion eliminates the need for battery changing which can take up to 20 minutes per lift compared to re-fueling which typically takes under five minutes.  In terms of opportunity costs, there are no charging stations which produce more available space for other revenue-generating activities.

Uniformity of Shape

Seamless steel tubing is extruded from raw hollows and uses a plug and die to keep the tubes uniform shape.  Because welded seam pipe adds heat and stress and is wrapped around another form before it is welded during the forming process, it may never be as round as seamless steel tubing.

Strength Under Loads

Seamless steel pipe can sometimes be more expensive than other forms of steel pipe, but it’s also more reliable.

This is because it has greater strength under loading. Empty pipe must always support its own weight, but when a pipe is filled with material, or under load, it must also support that weight as well. Pipe failures and leaks in welded pipes usually occur at the welded seam.

While conversion was slow to gain adoption in prior years, the technology is now gaining rapid acceptance throughout the United States.   With companies like BMW and Walmart leading the conversion movement, it won’t be long before other top organizations follow suit.

Conclusion

There are many benefits of converting material handling equipment from traditional methods (lead battery driven), to the eco-friendly method of fuel cell technology.  The three primary benefits include a significant reduction in installation costs, ability to withstand high pressures and a decrease in on-going operational costs.  While the technology experienced a historically slow adoption rate, the use of seamless steel tubing is gaining acceptance throughout the United States.  

Check back for more information on the benefits of using seamless stainless steel tubing in your operation.

In the meantime, click below to read more about hydrogen fuel cells for material handling equipment:

Advantages of Hydrogen Fuel Cell-Powered Forklifts

Sources:

NREL

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)