However much the diesel camp improves its emissions to meet the latest diesel Tier requirements, an improvement that comes with added costs, the forklift industry is moving relentlessly towards electric trucks for two major reasons: Environmental concerns backed by legislation and improvements in electric technology, for both batteries and chargers, that now gives them the same power punch as diesel and LPG.

Over the past 12 months Baumann UK has noticed a big swing to its electric vehicles, helped by the fact that complexity and costs of the latest diesel Tier 4 engines have sharply narrowed the price gap between electric and diesel trucks. Toyota Materials Handling, the world’s largest forklift producer, is well positioned to meet the low-carbon society because 85% of the trucks they are currently delivering into Europe are already electric, a rate they anticipate will keep rising. But Toyota also sees a future for hydrogen fuel cells by developing its own models, presumably anticipating more mega deals like those from Amazon and Walmart who recently committed $1.2 billion to buy Power Plug Cells.

LPG has long been seen as an alternative to diesel because of its advantages over electric and the fact that they can be much cleaner than diesel to use internally, though because they are not squeaky clean they would not be advisable for use in sensitive environments like food and pharma. Compared with electric trucks, however, LPG is losing some of its erstwhile advantages.

These once included quick gas bottle refills, avoiding the need for long electric re-charging periods. Adoption of new batteries like lithium-ion and lithium ironphosphate means the batteries can be charged within one hour and also take advantage of opportunity charging. Although up to four times the cost of lead-acid batteries they are 30% more energy efficient with a life time of up to four times as much. Such quick charging could also dispense with the need for standby batteries in multi-shift operations. And the good news is that these battery prices are falling.

Electric-powered trucks can now also match the performance of diesel and LPG in all conditions, including heavy duty lifts. But LPG providers are not ignoring developments. Calor, for example, is now offering a new renewable fuel, BioLPG, a mixture of 40% BioLPG and 60% conventional LPG, to offer savings of up to 32% on greenhouse gas emissions without cutting performance and the need to change any of a truck’s equipment.

Lead-acid batteries may be old hat technology but how many users realise the cost-savings opportunities being lost through poor maintenance regimes and ignorance of recent developments like TPPL from Enersys? Most battery users still do not have full battery maintenance contracts.

This means that ignoring battery maintenance during the first year of warranty can still leave users exposed to call-out repairs because the warranty only covers cell defects, which account for less than 1% of warranty claims. Such misuse, like incorrect charging and topping up, results in very high operating costs. Estimates put the average abuse cost for a standard battery pack at around 25% of the purchase cost. Without effective battery care battery life could be reduced from six years to two. As a virtually maintenance-free battery, TPPL (thin plate pure lead) technology, uses much thinner, purer lead plates which gives it the ability to charge repeatedly from any depth of discharge (up to 80%). Taking advantage of short breaks for recharging and a more rapid charging system, TPPL can often avoid the need to exchange a battery at the end of a shift.