As one might expect, forklift fuel running costs are a big issue and so it is important to keep informed of the developments in new motive power choices and how their costs are changing. Additionally, of course, changing environmental legislation will influence the fuel of choice.

Until very recently, motive power choice was limited to the longstanding triumvirate of diesel, LPG and electric. Each had their advantages and disadvantages and the operating environment was usually the decisive factor. Diesel and LPG were favoured over electric because of their higher performance issue in all weathers and conditions. That, of course, is no longer the case thanks to electric battery and charger advances.

Moreover, the other perceived disadvantages of electric in multishift operations, like the costly need to maintain and house standby batteries, are now disappearing owing to quick-charge Li and Lithium iron phosphate batteries. If still preferring to stick with diesel and LPG, there are certain points worth considering.

Compared with diesel, LPG trucks are generally cheaper to buy and maintain. Owing to its cleaner credentials than diesel it is also a more versatile fuel because it can be operated inside and out, though because of some emission pollution only electric should be considered for certain indoor applications like food and pharma. A three-way catalyst installed on an LPG truck can, however, reduce emissions by up to 98% while the alternative of compressed natural gas (CNG) is cleaner still. Diesel, nevertheless, has some advantages over LPG. It is more fuel efficient and can be run on red diesel. An average fuel tank of 50 litres of duty-free diesel will last much longer than an 18 kg gas bottle in like for like usage. Owing to their higher torque they are also better on gradients, and diesel has a longer engine life than LPG.

While one can expect some more advances in diesel engine technology the really exciting changes are taking place in the various forms of electric power.

The two main contenders to displace lead-acid batteries are lithium-ion (Li) and lithium iron phosphate and the good news here is that battery prices are falling and the design problems surrounding the battery counterweight issue have been resolved so that now even counterbalance forklifts can use these much lighter batteries, whereas previously they were confined to powered pallet trucks and tow tractors. Toyota Material Handling now offers most if its trucks running on Li-ion by simply adapting its lead-acid battery models with the help of an additional counterweight in the battery compartment to compensate for the lighter batteries.

This year Still will be offering 90% of its electric trucks with the option of lithium iron phosphate batteries, which will include its RX20 counterbalance truck of 1.4-2 tonnes lift capacity. Its customers will receive an optimum battery solution for their specific application. Where, for example, a customer has a two-shift operation a solution where there is no need for a battery change is supplied. It takes only one hour to fully charge the battery, which is 30% more energy efficient than lead-acid batteries with a lifetime of up to four times as much. In one report, headed “Product Roadmap, Lithium-ion Batteries 2030”, which predicted that the Li-ion battery would be the key technology for forward-looking drives for all types of electric trucks, there is still potential for development, with regard to both energy density and developments in pricing. On the latter, acquisition costs have already fallen by 50% since 2011, which had not been expected to occur before 2020.

Lurking in the wings are also the possibilities of hydrogen fuel cells and bio gas making significant inroads to the existing market shares. In the second quarter of 2017 LPG supplier, Calor, will be offering a new renewable fuel source, BioLPG, made from renewable feedstocks such as organic plant materials, vegetable oils and animal fats. Based on an allocation of 40% Bio LPG and 60% conventional LPG blend, it will make savings of up to 32% on greenhouse gas emissions without cutting performance. There will be no need for truck operators to change any of their equipment. Such a range of motive fuel choices can only augur well for keeping running costs down and the future greener and healthier.