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Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. received a $1 million grant from the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority (PEDA) to install hydrogen fuel cell-powered material handling equipment at its Retail Service Center in Pottsville, Pa.
The grant, which will be used for equipment such as pallet jacks and reach trucks, will offset a portion of the costs associated with the installation of an on-site hydrogen infrastructure, which includes an outdoor hydrogen storage tank and indoor fueling dispensers.
“In terms of sustainability, energy reduction is one of our top priorities,” said Mike Cullen, Wegmans VP of distribution planning for the Rochester, N.Y.-based grocer. “This investment in fuel cell technology will help our employees, our business and our community. It also underscores our growth and investment in our Pennsylvania operations.”
In addition to its Retail Service Center, Wegmans operates 12 stores in Pennsylvania, with plans for three more in the future. One, a new store in Collegeville, Pa., will open in October of this year.
Wegmans currently powers its material handling equipment with lead-acid batteries. During this three-phase project, the company plans to convert its entire lift truck fleet at the Pottsville facility to hydrogen fuel cells, allowing for increased productivity, lower operating costs and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The first phase will include the hydrogen infrastructure installation, as well as the equipment conversion in the produce facility. This phase is expected to be operational in November 2009.
Hydrogen fuel cells produce energy through an electrochemical reaction. Because hydrogen is the fuel source, heat and water are the only byproducts. By converting the lift equipment in just the produce area of its facility to hydrogen fuel cells, Wegmans estimates that carbon emissions will be reduced by an amount equivalent to removing 134 cars from the road each year.
During this first phase of the project, Wegmans will purchase 50 Crown pallet trucks and nine Crown standup forklifts from Lift, Inc. of Lancaster Pa. Lift will also supply Wegmans with Plug Power’s GenDrive fuel cell solution to power its fleet.
According to Lift, another positive outcome of the conversion is that Wegmans employees will notice an improvement in equipment performance. The batteries that currently power the equipment start out with a full charge, but over the course of a work shift, the charge dissipates and the equipment slows down until the battery dies completely. Fuel-cell powered equipment, on the other hand, will perform at peak until it’s time to refuel, a process that takes less than one minute.
“How change affects our employees is an important consideration in every decision we make,” said David DeMascole, Wegmans Retail Service Center GM. “Enabling employees to refuel quickly as needed gives them more control of their time and will improve their work environment.”
Throughout 2011 and 2012, Wegmans plans to expand its use of hydrogen fuel cell technology at the Pottsville facility. When the project is complete, up to 150 units of equipment will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
Wegmans operates 73 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland.