While new emerging motive power technologies are stealing the headlines, with forecasts of when they are likely to pose a serious threat to the current triumvirate of electric, diesel and LPG, one neverchanging constant is the customers’ desire for the most reliable, cost-effective fuel. Ironically, however, while they may choose the most appropriate leadacid battery and charger, for example, most applications would see substantial increases in battery life simply by following recommended battery care practices. Electric trucks will, of course, break down, and it is not unusual for the truck supplier to blame the battery manufacturer for the problem and for the battery supplier to blame the truck’s mechanics. To avoid this buckpassing game it would make sense to choose a ‘one-stop- shop’ supplier capable of offering truck, battery and charger.
Time was when the choice between these three motive fuels was simple enough and more or less fixed in stone. Electric trucks were the obvious choice for indoor work, especially in sensitive environments like food and pharma, where air quality was important. Diesel and LPG were favoured for their higher performance and lower acquisition/handling costs in all demanding weather conditions and multi-shift work. The working environment, therefore, was the decisive factor. All that, however, has been upset by the technical advances in batteries and charging systems, that make electric deliver the same performance punch as diesel and LPG, while lowering their comparative operating costs.
The appeal of electric, however, has been further enhanced by the advent of a wider choice of electric motive power like lithium-ion and lithium iron phosphate batteries. The good news here is that while their initial prices are 3-4 times higher than lead-acid batteries their prices are falling and the design problems surrounding the battery counterweight issue have been resolved. These new batteries can also be fully charged within one hour, thus enhancing their appeal against not only lead-acid but also diesel and LPG.
But what of other motive energy forms that were touted as environmental saviours? Hydrogen fuel cells have been adopted by some of the major forklift manufacturers and while a costcase can be made for them they depend on large fleet users running multi-shifts. Other doubts holding back fuel cells, however, include the energy efficiency of the hydrogen production process allied to site supply problems and health and safety issues over the refuelling process.
Developments in the bio-gas field are accelerating. At first these were hybrid solutions involving a mix of diesel or LPG with bio-gas renewable feedstocks, and the big attraction was the substantial cut in carbon emissions. Calor, for example, are now offering a renewable source called bioLPG, made from organic plant materials, 40% of which will be mixed with 60% conventional LPG. This will cut greenhouse gases by up to 32% with no adverse effect on performance. But improvements on this hybrid approach could come from a 100% biogas solution.
The environmentally conscious 3PL, Howard Tenens, has been running a fleet of 36 dual fuel lorries for several years but now they are trialling two 26-ton rigids running entirely on bio-methane gas with much greater environmental benefits that will reduce carbon emissions by about 70% compared with a normal diesel engine. Howard Tenens have overcome the availability issue by investing heavily in a gas refuelling station and has partnered with Advanced Plasma Power (APP) who will supply the fuel made entirely from household waste. It will be interesting to see how the trials perform and while APP are not currently applying this technology to forklifts it could be a promising contender among the emerging fuels in the near future.