Much has been written and said about the pros and cons of the various motive power sources for industrial handling trucks but such have been the developments in the electric battery market that the main struggle for hegemony will be within the electric sector between improved lead-acid batteries and lithium-ion and iron-phosphate, with vanadium flow batteries a potential market disrupter further down the road.

Diesel may be past its heyday owing to problematic emissions concerns and big advances in electric battery and charging technology which makes electric trucks the equal of diesel in performance terms in all weathers, but diesel will not be disappearing very rapidly, partly because truck and engine producers like Doosan are still innovating to tackle the emissions concerns by engineering out the need for a diesel particulate filter, for example, and thus saving much maintenance and fuel costs.

The outlook for hydrogen fuel cell trucks still looks promising but the auguries suggest that their adoption is likely to be concentrated for the time being among the very large fleet users with 24/7 operations. But as the market expands initial truck prices will fall, making their ROI more attractive for smaller users. Other alternatives like LPG, CNG and bio-mass face a more uncertain outlook, While the stop-gap nonsense of hybrids are following the dodo.

Lead-acid is still by far the biggest (non-ic) energy source, accounting for 99%, so it is hardly surprising that the battery producers like GNB Industrial are still pouring investment into lead-acid to produce improvements like its Tensor range which can recharge from 80% depth of discharge in just four hours. It can also be used inside cold stores where it exceeds traction battery performance by 50%. While GNB is not ignoring Li-ion batteries, forklift giant Jungheinrich is going full out to adopt Li-ion because “It’s not just new technology – it’s changing the rules,” says Dr Lars Brzoska, the company’s sales and marketing director. More bullishly he adds: “It’s not the next step but the basis for the next revolution.”

The lures of Li-ion are several. They last up to three times longer than lead-acid, with a greater capability to work in very lower temperatures of -20 C. They require no maintenance and so there is no costly infrastructure because there is no need to change the battery 24/7. A 50% charge can be done in 30 minutes, thus taking advantage of opportunity charging during breaks. The saving in energy compared with lead-acid is 20%, says Jungheinrich. While critics point to a high purchase cost (up to three times as much as lead-acid) Dr Brzoska believes that falling prices will match those of lead-acid by 2022 at the latest.

Ecobat Battery Technologies (EBT), an independent battery supplier and service provider, while planning to launch its own lithiumion pack by the end of the year, is keen to point out that there is a gap for lead crystal, a pure lead technology that performs well against Li-ion and can recharge in 2-3 hours. It is maintenance free and much less costly.