United Natural Foods warehouse gets environmental makeover

RP news wires
Tags: inventory management, energy management

Air Products announced that its hydrogen fueling technology for the material handling market is being installed at the Sarasota, Fla., distribution center of United Natural Foods Inc. Air Products’ technology will fuel 65 fuel cell-powered lift trucks that will be mobilized at the distribution facility moving consumer goods on a daily basis. The equipment for the 352,000-square-foot Sarasota facility, which serves as a regional distribution hub for customers in the southeastern United States, is targeted to be operational by the end of June.

“It is exciting and understandable that UNFI has made this conversion decision to hydrogen-powered material handling equipment. Air Products’ portfolio in this market includes multiple installations around the United States fueling over 300 material handling units. We have heard a lot of positive comments from our customers, the users of this new technology who are realizing the benefits of the hydrogen economy in this application,” said Mike Doud, business development manager for hydrogen energy systems at Air Products.

Air Products will supply the hydrogen as well as its compression, storage and two indoor hydrogen dispensing units. UNFI will add 29 new hydrogen fuel cell-powered lift trucks to its fleet and 36 existing lift trucks will be retrofitted to hydrogen fuel cell technology. Details on Air Products’ hydrogen fueling station technologies are provided at www.airproducts.com/h2energy.

UNFI looked to this initiative to replace lead acid batteries and their associated charging equipment with hydrogen fuel cells as part of its culture of social responsibility and its commitment to using clean energy, as well as to improve efficiency, productivity and reliability.

Hydrogen-powered forklift moves warehouse goods.
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“We consider environmental stewardship an essential component in every facet of our business. This hydrogen fuel cell project extends our commitment as an environmentally-conscious organization,” said Steven Spinner, UNFI’s president and chief executive officer.

As background, a hydrogen fuel cell produces energy by combining hydrogen and oxygen in an electrochemical reaction that yields electricity, heat and water. Hydrogen is non-toxic, non-poisonous, the lightest of all gases and the most abundant element in the universe. By converting UNFI’s Sarasota lift truck fleet to hydrogen fuel cells, the company expects carbon emissions will be reduced by approximately 132 metric tons annually, an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of 35 automobiles.

Tom Dziki, UNFI’s senior vice president of sustainable development, stated, “Hydrogen fuel cells not only provide greater productivity and lower operating costs, but will be an important component of a clean energy future. Once implemented, this fuel cell project is expected to create annual energy savings of approximately 640,000 kilowatt hours.”

There are many advantages to using hydrogen-powered forklifts and other material handling equipment. Hydrogen fuel cell-powered equipment needs refueling once or twice daily, depending on use. In contrast, traditional battery-powered equipment must be placed temporarily out of operation for battery replacement and required battery recharging approximately every four to six hours. Hydrogen fuel cell-powered equipment provides consistent power strength during use and does not experience decreased performance or wear down as traditional lead-acid battery units do as they near a required battery change out or recharge time.

A hydrogen-powered forklift is fueled using Air Products' hydrogen fueling technology.
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Additionally, hydrogen fuel cell forklifts are not adversely impacted by temperature or by operating in coolers and freezers, in comparison to traditional battery performance. Further, hydrogen-powered fuel cell equipment is more environmentally friendly because it does not involve lead-acid battery storage and disposal issues.

Air Products’ hydrogen fueling technology is currently being used to fuel more than 300 material handling vehicles including: fuel cell-powered pallet trucks at Wegmans Retail Service Center in Pottsville, Pa.; fuel cell-powered lift trucks at Central Grocers’ new distribution center in Joliet, Ill.; hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts at Nestlé Waters North America in Dallas, Tex.; hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts at the Defense Distribution Depot Susquehanna Pennsylvania in New Cumberland, Pa.; as well as hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts at several other customers in the United States. In addition, mobile fueling equipment unique and patented by Air Products has been and continues to be deployed to a variety of customers for the purpose of demonstrating the technology in real world conditions.

Air Products hydrogen fueling dispenser.
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About UNFI
United Natural Foods Inc. carries and distributes more than 60,000 products to more than 17,000 customer locations nationwide. The company serves a wide variety of retail formats including conventional supermarket chains, natural product superstores, independent retail operators and the food service channel. United Natural Foods was ranked by Forbes in 2005 as one of the “Best Managed Companies in America”, ranked by Fortune in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 as one of its “Most Admired Companies”, winner of the Supermarket News 2008 Sustainability Excellence Award, and recognized by the Nutrition Business Journal for its 2009 Environment and Sustainability Award. For more information, visit www.unfi.com.

About Air Products
Air Products serves customers in industrial, energy, technology and healthcare markets worldwide with a unique portfolio of atmospheric gases, process and specialty gases, performance materials, and equipment and services. Founded in 1940, Air Products has built leading positions in key growth markets such as semiconductor materials, refinery hydrogen, home healthcare services, natural gas liquefaction, and advanced coatings and adhesives. The company is recognized for its innovative culture, operational excellence and commitment to safety and the environment. In fiscal 2009, Air Products had revenues of $8.3 billion, operations in more than 40 countries, and 18,900 employees around the globe. For more information, visit www.airproducts.com.


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