Electric and Fuel Cell Forklifts in Mexico: A Comparative Life-Cycle Assessment
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A recent overhaul of Mexico’s energy sector launched by a Constitutional reform in 2013 started the decarbonization of the economy by tapping into Mexico’s vast renewable resources and through the deployment of new energy technologies. This, in addition to health concerns due to high pollution levels in large urban populations, encouraged the government to kick-start an effort to roll out alternative-fuel vehicles. One of the alternative-fuel vehicles currently explored in the United States and other countries, like Japan and the EU, are fuel cell vehicles powered by hydrogen, yet this technology requires complex supply chains with large up-front costs. Thus, governments are exploring early market applications that can help jump start the hydrogen market through demonstration projects, like city-owned buses, and through government incentives for hydrogen-powered material handling equipment. This study takes a first stab at delving whether the Mexican government should consider incentivizing the deployment of fuel cell technologies, in their effort to accelerate the de-carbonization of the transportation system and more generally to tackle climate change, through hydrogen-powered forklifts—as these are a proven early market application that is widely used in the United States. Yet this can only be argued for if the new technology presents a solid environmental benefit vis-à-vis the incumbent one – in this case battery-powered forklifts. The methodology used in the study was a life-cycle assessment, that estimates the emissions and energy used throughout the hydrogen supply chain, and compares them to the electricity one, using a model developed by the Argonne National Laboratory and Mexico-specific data. The results show a clear advantage of using hydrogen over batteries when produced via electrolysis powered by wind electricity; a large disadvantage when using electrolysis powered by the average Mexican electric mix; and mixed results when using hydrogen produced through the reforming of natural gas. However, there is also a case for fuel cells in material handling equipment due to potential reductions in cost of ownership that argue in favor of the hydrogen scenario.