Latham fuel cell maker Plug Power has been awarded a $650,000 contract from the federal government to demonstrate the advantage of using fuel cells to power refrigeration units in truck trailers.
The idea is to switch tractor-trailers that transport perishable and frozen foods away from costly diesel-powered refrigeration units, which produce environmentally hazardous particulate matter and nitrous oxide emissions, in favor of hydrogen-based fuel cell units, which are cleaner and quieter.
Plug Power was selected by the Fuel Cell Technologies Office within the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Efficiency and Renewable Energy to showcase its fuel cells in transport refrigeration units, or TRUs. These units are large air conditioners that regulate cold temperatures for items such as frozen pizza, fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products and other goods that must be kept chilled or frozen during transport to distribution centers or businesses.
“Plug Power’s leadership in the material transport industry is generating interest and development funds for implementation of fuel cells in adjacent markets,” company CEO Andy Marsh said in a news release issued Friday. “This TRU award demonstrates how Plug Power is now executing on its market expansion strategy to architect fuel cell solutions across a wider range of opportunities.”
Currently, most of the approximately 300,000 transport refrigeration units traversing the nation’s highways are powered by diesel generators. A typical unit will consume about 10 gallons of diesel per day and emit roughly 101 kg of carbon dioxide.
By comparison, hydrogen-powered fuel cells emit only a small amount of heat and water.
The ones being designed for transport refrigeration units will cool Carrier Transicold refrigeration units on trailers that deliver products for a Sysco Corp. distribution center in Long Island. Each unit will run for a minimum of 400 hours over a two-year contract period. The hydrogen will be supplied by Air Products, and researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will oversee the program.
Plug Power customers that already use hydrogen fuel cells to power forklifts (Plug Power’s main line of business) will benefit from having the hydrogen infrastructure already in place.