FOR the local materials handling and lift truck market, alternatives to traditional forklift power have provided newer and greener options for manufacturers who rely on these technologies, especially ahead of a carbon tax which could be rolled-out mid next year.
Crown Equipment general manager for markets, Craig Kenchington, told Manufacturers’ Monthly that manufacturing companies that realised their negative impact on the environment as a key issue a decade or more ago will be the ones that will feel the least impact of any tax on carbon.
"We don’t know yet just how the tax will be applied or administered, but the fact remains that those companies that are already embracing cleaner energy options will be in a position of competitive advantage regardless of what the final carbon tax outcome may be," he says.
According to Kenchington, there are a number of options available to companies engaged in materials handling to help mitigate future business risks related to the price on carbon. These options include electric forklifts which can be charged using renewable energy and alternative fuel sources, such as hydrogen fuel cell technology.
Electric forklift models are the most popular alternative source of clean power for the local market. This is largely due to their cost efficiency and also Australia’s comparatively relaxed environmental laws and regulations compared to its European counterparts, who favour fuel cell power as the more carbon-efficient solution.
However, fuel cell power’s limited take-up in Australia reportedly has more to do with lack of awareness rather than price. It’s a new type of power which the market knows little about, explains Kenchington.
"Fuel cell power offers companies which use forklifts the cleanest and arguably, the cheapest form of power in the history of the materials handling industry," he says.
"This is because the process involves basically little more than hydrogen and water, both of which are naturally occurring."
In fact, Kenchington says many companies in food manufacturing, for example, are already using hydrogen onsite for production, but are unaware that that same source of hydrogen can power their forklift fleet.
In the US market, Crown is already supplying companies, such as Wal-Mart, with vehicles designed and manufactured for fuel cell power packs. The adoption of the technology followed a 24-month trial of 20 Crown Fuel Cell Qualified Trucks at the Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, USA by Crown Research & Development division dedicated Fuel Cell Project Centre, which was established in 2008.
Locally, the next step in Crown’s fuel cell power R&D is working with relevant Government authorities and suitable customers to trial the technology. The company is currently in contact with a number of applicable Government departments and is in the process of shortlisting suitable customers for Australian Fuel Cell technology trials.