Amazon Hiring 30K Part-Timers and Taking Stake in Plug Power

Tech giant Amazon announced today that it has acquired the right to buy up to a 23 percent stake in hydrogen fuel cell maker Plug Power. Amazon also announced plans to hire as many as 30,000 part-time employees in the U.S.

The deal with Plug Power includes an agreement allowing Amazon to purchase Plug Power fuel cells and hydrogen technology to power industrial equipment at its fulfillment centers.

In addition, the companies said they will begin collaborating on further developing Plug Power's fuel cell technology, with an eye toward finding ways to expand the applications for its ProGen line of fuel cell engines. The partnership could give Amazon a crucial advantage in powering equipment used for parcel deliveries and other logistics applications.

Fuel Cells for Drones

The likely purpose of the agreement is to give Amazon a foothold in a sector that will become increasingly important to the company in the future. The retail giant has made no secret of its efforts to develop autonomous delivery drones to reduce its logistics costs. Plug Power said that its new line of fuel cells, the ProGen platform, can be applied to a variety of fields including on-road electric vehicles. The partnership with Plug Power will give Amazon an established partner in developing that technology for its future delivery fleet.

At the moment, though, the collaboration between the companies will center around Plug Power supplying hydrogen fuel cells to select Amazon fulfillment center locations. The fuel cells will be used to replace the lead-acid batteries currently used to power heavy industrial equipment such as forklifts.

The switch from traditional lead-acid batteries to hydrogen fuel cells offers several advantages for the online retailer. Plug Power said its fuel cells can be charged significantly faster than existing batteries, resulting in less downtime for the equipment and lower operating costs. The fuel cells are also more energy efficient than traditional batteries, helping the company achieve its stated goal of reducing its carbon footprint as well as its power costs.

The companies said they expect the commercial agreement will involve payments by Amazon to Plug Power of around $70 million in 2017. For Amazon’s rights to purchase Plug Power's equity to fully vest, the retailer must make payments of at least $600 million to the fuel cell maker over the course of the commercial agreement.

Major Increase in Part-Time Workforce

But technology is not the only area Amazon is investing in this week. The company also announced plans to hire as many as 30,000 additional part-time workers in the U.S., almost doubling its existing 40,000-person part-time workforce. The 30,000 new part-time workers are in addition to the 100,000 full-time employees the company said in January that it would hire over the next 18 months.

Up to 5,000 of those workers will be hired as part of Amazon’s Virtual Customer Service program, a system that allows part-time customer service representatives to work from home.

The remaining 25,000 new part-time employees are slated for work at various locations throughout the company’s network of sortation and fulfillment centers, where they will help sort and consolidate customer packages.