Given the global bad publicity surrounding diesel vehicle emissions it is hard to see if diesel has a long-term future. To their credit, the diesel engine manufacturers have made great strides to make diesel not only cleaner but more efficient to lower fuel costs and there are some who claim that within the next four to five years diesel engines will evolve again thanks to the improvements that are still possible with injection systems. They will need to because the European Commission has published draft Stage V legislation, scheduled for introduction on January 1st, 2019. This means diesel engine makers will be required to undertake new power train developments to achieve a 40% reduction of particulate matter and to measure PN, or particle number, for the first time.

chazOn the other hand, there are two main reasons why the writing may be on the wall for diesel. The first is that despite all the engine emission improvements they cannot cope with sub 2.5 micron oily particulates, which lodge permanently in the body and are known killers and causes of illness absenteeism. Until that problem is solved we may soon see a date set to ban the use of all diesel forklifts inside premises. Thanks to the asininity of the EU’s regulatory body favouring diesel over petrol because of lower CO2 emissions at least half of all cars on the roads are now diesel and most logistics firms almost exclusively use diesel vehicles. These trucks, however, produce three times the amount of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) than their petrol-fuelled counterparts. It is likely, therefore, that under legislative and financial pressures diesel will be phased out and so it would be hard not to apply the same logic to diesel forklifts.

Secondly, the big advantage diesel had over electric in terms of performance no longer pertains owing to battery and charger technology improvements which the protagonists of electric say matches diesel, and moreover the running costs of electric are falling in relation to diesel and LPG. Diesel engine makers may also find that the cost of keeping up with all the environmental diesel legislation is no longer a game worth the candle. LPG also suffers from a credibility problem over emissions because this, too, is health harming, although not to the extent of diesel. CNG is better than LPG but, again, not squeaky clean.

Some pundits see a trend developing towards hybrid engines, partly because the cost of components will fall, which is badly needed because hybrids involve two drive systems, making maintenance a significant cost issue.

Given the continuing high costs of R&D in trying to keep up with new diesel emission regulations it is hardly surprising that some forklift companies are hedging their bets. NACCO Materials Handling Group (Hyster and Yale), for example, have bought a hydrogen fuel cell company because they see a brighter future for hydrogen fuel cells, which need not rely on fossil fuels to generate the hydrogen. This gas has no noxious emissions and it can be made from renewables such as bio-methane and solar electrolysis.

With the materials handling industry being faced with more motive power sources it is becoming more difficult to shape future fork truck motive power usage policies. One given is clear, however. More deference will be placed on the need to meet environmental and health issues.