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The hydrogen powered fork lift

Hydrogen-powered vehicles are out, and they are lumbering around the warehouse.

Six companies--including Wal Mart and Bridgestone--are currently conducting trials with fork lifts that run on hydrogen rather than lead acid batteries, according to John Sheridan, CEO of Ballard Power Systems, which makes hydrogen fuel cells, at the ThinkEquity Partners Growth Conference taking place in San Francisco this week. Cellex Power and General Hydrogen produced the vehicles, which run on fuel cells from Ballard.

Granted, a fork lift isn't as glamorous as a four-seater hydrogen-powered convertible, or a 21st Century version of the Hindenburg, but the application fits pretty well hydrogen. Fork lift drivers don't have to worry about being stranded far from a hydrogen filling station. Acceleration and high speeds, two concerns about hydrogen cars, are also not really an issue with fork lifts. And if you dropped a pallet of Gorton's No Flip Fishsticks one is going to scream "Oh, the humanity!!!"

Ballard shipped 76 Mark 9 SSL vehicular hydrogen fuel cells to its customers in the first half of the year.

The company is also working with Tokyo Gas, Nippon Electric and Ebara on trials with hydrogen fuel cells in homes in Japan. "They (the fuel cells) provide the first kilowatt to the household and unlimited hot water," he said. The companies are trying to bring down the cost of these units down to the equivalent of $5000. The Japanese government is heavily subsidizing the effort. Panasonic is also looking at delivering hydrogen fuel cells for the home.

In the first half, Ballard shipped 216 Mark 1030 residential fuel cells to customers. Residential fuel cells may begin to get released commercially in Japan in 2007 or 2008, he added.