Uline's Hydrogen Fuel Facility

August 20, 2015

The fuel station is located between W1 and W2

The facility is located near the Uline Distribution Center (W2) project that Mortenson is currently building.   Plug Power will furnish, install, commission and operate the system that is housed within the facility that Mortenson built.  The open structure, with three precast sides and a fourth made of decorative aluminum fence, will house the hydrogen tank and much of the equipment that makes up the heart of the fueling system.  The hydrogen will be distributed to both distribution centers - which total 2.3 million square feet - through stainless steel tubing that is about the diameter of a highlighter.  The hydrogen will replace the batteries that currently power all of the forklifts.  The first fill date is set for September 1, 2015!  Hydrogen is a hazardous material classified as Class 1 Division 1; therefore, any work required after the tank if filled with hydrogen would be extremely difficult to do.  This side project has been very involved and has required extensive planning and coordination.

The facility will contain:

  • A bulk (15,000-18,000 gallon) storage tank of liquid hydrogen chilled to -423 degrees fahrenheit
  • Compression pumps that compress the liquid hydrogen to gaseous hydrogen at 7000 PSI
  • Gaseous storage tubes which hold ~120 kg of gaseous hydrogen

Piping to each distribution center from the Hydrogen Fuel Facility is continuous to each forklift filling station (hydrogen dispenser) ensuring no leaks between connections.  At Uline, each distribution center will have four dispensers.  The area around each dispenser required a lot of coordination by the team, as there is a 30’ diameter cylinder around each location with stringent (Class 1 Division 1) requirements.  The requirements include restrictions that all mechanical and electrical equipment must meet the guidelines for being installed within this restricted area.

Quick facts about hydrogen fuel:

  • It does not occur naturally on earth and thus is not an energy source, but it is an energy carrier – similar to a battery.
  • As of 2014, 95% of hydrogen is made from methane.
  • Hydrogen can be produced from renewables but it is very costly.

How does a fuel cell work?

Hydrogen fuel cells contain three parts.  Two chemical reactions take place at the intersections between the parts, resulting in three events: fuel (gaseous hydrogen) is consumed, water and carbon dioxide are formed, and electricity is created.  This electricity is what powers the forklift.  Depending on the desired amount of energy, fuel cells can be added in series -for more power - or in parallel - for a larger current.