OneH2 Generating Facility small 1

Over its 80-plus years, Papé has become a household name as a purveyor of equipment that runs on diesel, from big rigs and backhoes to farm equipment and feller bunchers. Over the next 80 years, the company might become just as well known for something else: powering heavy machinery with the lightest element.

In 2019, Eugene-based Papé acquired an ownership stake in OneH2, which develops small-scale hydrogen-generation systems. Papé CEO Jordan Papé, who chairs OBI’s board, also sits on OneH2’s board of directors.

Hydrogen has significant potential as a low-emission fuel for a wide range of vehicles and equipment and is particularly well suited to machines like forklifts that operate in enclosed spaces. A hydrogen fuel cell can transform the energy stored in the hydrogen into an electric current, which then powers the motor that makes a truck or forklift go. Rather than carbon dioxide, other gases and particulates, the process produces water. A truck powered by a fuel cell is, in essence, an electric vehicle in which a tank of hydrogen replaces a large bank of batteries.

Hydrogen has advantages and disadvantages relative to battery power. Hydrogen-powered vehicles can be refueled much more quickly than batteries can be recharged. You just fill up the hydrogen tank. And unlike battery-powered vehicles, those powered by fuel cells don’t lose range when the temperature drops. On the other hand, the production, transportation and storage of hydrogen gas tends to be energy-intensive and, at least for the time being, expensive.

Enter OneH2.

The North Carolina company produces small but scalable units that generate hydrogen gas for use on site or within a short distance. OneH2’s units can generate gas in one of two ways.

The first method, steam-methane reforming, produces hydrogen using natural gas, high-pressure steam and a catalyst. More than 90% of the hydrogen produced in the United States is made in this fashion at large, centralized plants. You can read more about the process here.

Though steam-methane reforming uses a petroleum-based fuel in an energy-intensive process, generating hydrogen at or near the point of use can minimize both the hydrogen loss and energy use that come with the liquefying, moving and storage of gas generated by distant, large facilities. And from an emissions standpoint, generated hydrogen is still far less carbon-intensive than gasoline, compressed natural gas and ethanol.

The other method of production, which is well-suited to work with solar, wind and other clean-energy sources, is electrolysis. In crude terms, electrolysis produces hydrogen by zapping water. This makes hydrogen generation a convenient way to store solar and wind power during low-demand periods.

Papé has ordered the largest hydrogen-generation system OneH2 produces to anchor a fuel hub in California, making the company a OneH2 customer as well as an owner. When it’s completed this spring, the Bay Area facility will support a demonstration project involving a fleet of fuel cell-powered heavy-duty trucks. It also will support the needs of current and future businesses that use Papé machinery, including Hyster-Yale forklifts that run on hydrogen fuel cells now and Kenworth trucks that that will use hydrogen fuel cells.

OneH2’s generation units are small enough to be installed at high-use facilities such as warehouses served by fleets of fuel cell-powered forklifts. The largest occupies only 630 square feet, which is about the area covered by a city bus. The system also supports the delivery of hydrogen to remote locations on specially designed trailers that can be towed by a pickup truck. Once on site, a trailer is connected to a OneH2 dispenser that looks more or less like a gas pump.

Papé has no near-term plan to install a OneH2 unit in Oregon but is considering one, says company Chief Marketing Officer John Woodruff. The decision to invest in the Bay Area facility was driven in large part by the California Air Resources Board, which has adopted particularly aggressive carbon-reduction measures. Over the long term, however, Papé may create a hydrogen network along the Interstate 5 corridor, which connects many of its locations on the west coast.

Until then, Papé’s installation will support the transition to low-carbon fuel in California, and OneH2 will develop systems that allow hydrogen fuel cell power to spread efficiently, a little at a time.