Scarcely a month passes without new evidence emerging over the serious risks of air pollution on populations, much of it caused by diesel emissions so what are forklift diesel engine manufacturers doing to prevent cleaner forms of motive power from taking an ever larger share of the market?

chazThe latest EU legislation governing non-road diesel engines that comes into force this year will cut NOx emissions by 80% for new engines and will also mean ultra low sulphur fuel. Lethal particulates under 2.5 microns, however, will remain a concern and the population of pre new legislation diesel trucks will remain a hazard for some years to come. Forklift users, therefore, who hire their trucks and place the health of their drivers and surrounding workers high on their list may wish to look at other means of motive power when replacing their trucks or make sure that their diesel engines conform with EU Stage IV. In London alone it is estimated that air pollution, much of it diesel related, kills 4,000 people every year.

Forklift diesel engine makers, however, must not be confined to creating cleaner engines but also more cost effective engines because significant advances in electric batteries now mean that diesel’s prime advantage over electric trucks, performance, has all but disappeared. A good example of diesel’s fight back is the remarkable Doosan G2 diesel engine. Not only does this engine use a new combustion system to comply with Stage IV legislation without the use of a costly particulate filter, its advanced fuel injection system improves fuel efficiency by 33%, cuts vibration by 33% and noise levels by 10%, claims the company. Maintenance is also reduced because the engine cuts operational downtime associated with filter clogging.

LPG, and more recently cleaner CNG, have often been extolled as providing superior performance over electric trucks, especially on gradients, and for multiple shifts they are better placed than electric because of electric’s need for costly standby batteries and very slow charging times. They are also touted as clean enough for internal work but that is debatable, for although cleaner than diesel they are not squeaky clean and should certainly not be considered for use in food and pharma establishments. Compared with diesel they are also not as fuel efficient. An average diesel fuel tank of 50 litres of duty-free red diesel will last much longer than a 18 kg gas bottle in like for like usage. Owing to their higher torque they are also better than LPG on gradients and have a longer engine life, higher residual value than electric or LPG and lower maintenance costs.

The future is green and so electric trucks will likely be the truck of choice over diesel and LPG/CNG, but other factors, thanks to improved chargers, in particular, will also enhance their attractions. Battery specialist, Powercell, for example, has launched a new charger that delivers the world’s highest charge efficiency of 96%, compared with 70-85% from conventional chargers, which reduces the cost of each charging cycle by 30%. Its unique Ri-charging process also eliminates the twin risks of over and under charging. EnerSys has also launched new chargers, the Hawker Life Tech Modular and Life IQ Modular high frequency chargers that cut energy consumption by up to 25% and cut charging times by up to two hours.

Hovering in the wings, however, is proven fuel-cell technology based on hydrogen, which may well knock electric off its perch as costs come down.