SMYRNA, TN — In late August, Nissan North America (NNA) announced that it has become the first vehicle manufacturer to commercially deploy methanol fuel cells to power its material handling equipment (tugs) at its Smyrna, Tenn., assembly plant. The methanol fuel cells from Oorja Protonics, OorjaPac, provide a more energy efficient and cost effective battery-charging process for the 60 tugs that are used to transport thousands of vehicle parts throughout the 5.4 million-square-foot facility.
“Nissan is constantly looking at the impact our business activities have on the environment, and at the same time, how we can become more efficient,” said Mark Sorgi, manager, Material Handling. “The fuel cells, that are fueled by methanol, are helping us in both areas by reducing our CO2 emissions and better utilizing our resources.”
By using OorjaPac, Nissan is able to get rid of more than 70 electric battery chargers that were consuming almost 540,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. This will reduce Nissan’s electric bill and eliminate more than 300 tons of CO2 emissions that were being released into the atmosphere.
Methanol is an alternative liquid transportation fuel that is derived from various sources including wood, grass, landfills, natural gas and coal. Nissan is retrofitting the 60 tugs with methanol fuel cells that are easily, quickly and safely filled with methanol by the technicians who drive them. The fuel cell provides a constant charge that puts less strain on the tugs electrical system, increasing the life of the battery and other electrical parts.
“The methanol fuel cells have made us more productive by saving us almost 35 hours a day that were spent by employees changing out batteries,” said Sorgi. “There’s no changing out of low or dead batteries, which involves a battery technician and 15 to 20 minutes. Now the tug driver can refill the fuel cell in less than one minute and they’re on their way.”
Since no batteries are exchanged and the drivers refuel the tugs themselves, some battery technicians have been moved to other value-added positions in the plant, better using Nissan personnel. Also, the time saved by not having to change batteries has created a more efficient material-handling operation, allowing Nissan to reassign four material handlers.
The methanol fuel cells proved to be a worthwhile investment for Nissan after an 18-month trial period in the Smyrna plant. Nissan is procuring the methanol fuel cells from Oorja Protonics, a manufacturer of ultra-powerful methanol fuel cells from Fremont, Calif. Fuel cells generate electricity by converting the chemical energy stored in a fuel into electrical and thermal energy. The byproducts of the electrochemical reaction are pure water and heat.
“We are excited to take our relationship with Nissan to the next level, and proud to play such a pivotal role in Nissan’s environmental initiatives,” said Sanjiv Malhotra, Founder and CEO of Oorja Protonics. “Our OorjaPac system gives Nissan the opportunity to increase productivity and realize a strong return on investment.”
Nissan’s Smyrna plant has seen its energy efficiency improve by as much as 32 percent since it began aggressively pursing environmental initiatives in 2005. These energy-saving practices are currently saving the company more than $3.5 million per year. As an ENERGY STAR® partner, Nissan is committed to improving the energy efficiency of its business and protecting the environment for future generations.