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The KION Group has started to produce hydrogen propulsion systems

KION will soon be manufacturing its own fuel cell systems for industrial trucks. In an interview, Wolfgang Klüpfel, Head of KION Fuel Cell Systems, talks about this alternative energy system, the applications, and the advantages compared to other drive systems.


According to a study by the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA) and the Roland Berger management consultancy, hydrogen consumption within Europe is set to double from the current level of around 10 million metric tons p.a. to around 20 million metric tons p.a. by the end of the decade. While the majority of this will continue to be used as a raw material in industrial processes such as refining, fertilizer production, or steel, demand for hydrogen for applications in the transport sector, such as intralogistics, and in the energy sector will continue to grow.

The KION Group has set itself the objective of promoting the development of climate-friendly fuel cell technology and is therefore beginning to develop and produce hydrogen propulsion systems for its industrial trucks. The first trucks are set to be delivered to customers this year. In this interview, Wolfgang Klüpfel, Head of KION Fuel Cell Systems, talks about this alternative energy system, the applications, and the advantages compared to other drive systems.

What are the KION Group's plans for hydrogen power?

“Some time ago, we here at KION took the decision to develop our own fuel cell systems for our trucks. There is huge demand from our customers and we want to meet the growing calls for CO2-free intralogistics combined with a quick filling process. The production of KION’s own fuel cell systems will start as early as the spring. We plan to deliver the first trucks fitted with these systems to our customers before the end of the year. This means that the KION Group brands will soon be able to offer their customers everything they need from a single source: the forklift truck, the fuel cells, and the associated servicing.”

How does fuel cell technology actually work?

“Energy is obtained through a chemical reaction between oxygen (O2) and hydrogen (H2), which feeds a compact lithium-ion battery. This hybrid combination then powers the forklift truck by supplying the drive and lifting motors with energy. The fuel cell generates the electrical energy required to operate the forklift truck directly on board. The only by-products generated during “cold combustion” are heat, water vapor, and pure water.”

What advantages does the energy system offer?

“One major advantage is the CO2 saving: the energy system does not generate any emissions during operation, making it ideal for use in closed warehouses. If the hydrogen also comes from regenerative sources, e.g., biogas or electrolysis from sun or wind energy, then this makes the system climate neutral. The fast filling process of around just three minutes is another benefit, especially where fleets of forklifts are used in multi-shift operation. The handling during the filling process is also particularly safe and clean. For example, this makes the fuel-cell drive an attractive alternative to a lead-acid battery, particularly in hygiene-critical industries such as the pharmaceutical and food industries.”

What customers will be interested in this type of power drive?

“Hydrogen-powered forklift trucks should be used on a larger scale, because the customer also needs special infrastructure for these. A solution with a few forklift trucks doesn’t bring any benefits for our customers—it usually makes more sense to use forklift trucks that are powered by Li-ion batteries in this case.”

Forklifts with Fuel Cells at Mercedes-Benz

Are the KION Group brands also using hydrogen-powered forklift trucks themselves?

“We are currently building our own hydrogen generation facility. The construction work for the state-funded hydrogen filling station including electrolyzer is all but finished. Once this is completed, 21 forklift trucks with hybrid fuel cell systems will be put into operation and will replace the majority of the forklift trucks with combustion engines that are currently still in operation at the site.”

You can find more information in our press release as well as in our stories about trucks at Carrefour and the technology in general.