In the struggle for hegemony among the three main forklift motive power sources, – electricity, diesel and LPG – truck users can only benefit. Equipment suppliers are constantly having to improve their wares and service offerings, goaded by difficult trading conditions, but environmental and health issues will, as likely, be more critical. The economics of gas versus electric and diesel are well known but what are the developments which could tilt the balance in one direction or another?
In certain applications, like indoor operations for food and pharmaceutical operations, electric trucks should be the only choice, based on concern for the operators’ health and product hygiene. No amount of catalytic converters and soot filters will rid diesel or LPG of all the toxic emissions which could contaminate both food and personnel.
It was also thought that electric trucks were unsuitable for outdoor work where very heavy loads were involved. That, however, is changing. Time was when very heavy duty forklifts eschewed electric power in favour of diesel and LPG but battery-powered vehicle technology is changing briskly and the market could soon see 90 tonne all-electric AGVs, including 60 tonne loads, performing in the world’s ports.
A promising development at the port of Hamburg, the world’s most automated container terminal, is the testing of two all-electric AGVs for moving up to 60 tonne loads. Developed by a subsidiary of Demag Cranes, each of the prototypes can run on average for 17 hours on one full battery charge. Key to the very low overall energy consumption and the correspondingly extended operating time is the battery power train being twice as efficient as a diesel-electric one. The port’s aim will be to eradicate completely all exhaust gas at the terminal. Demag sees this remarkable development being made available to other cargo handling machinery in ports, airports and within industrial sites.
The electric market is also fighting for supremacy at a more mundane level. Hoppecke Industrial Batteries, for example, offers a new fork lift truck battery rental scheme where customers are only charged for the power that they use. Batteries may be rented on short, medium, and long-term contracts. Enersys has launched its new Hawker XFC batteries with 2V cells to provide greater flexibility to specify plug and play power sources. Minimum gassing means they can be used in retail areas and sensitive manufacturing locations and the battery is totally maintenance free, with no water topping up needed. The charging profile of the XFC technology allows a rapid recharge in less than four hours from 60% depth of discharge, and opportunity charging as often as needed without damaging the batteries. Owing to the plates being much thinner than the lead antimony grids used in traditional motive power batteries, they can hold up to 30% more charge and 20% more power.
But the LPG and diesel camps are not ceding victory to electricity as they strive to make life better for their customers. In the debate on the environmental pros and cons of the various fuels, some users may overlook the ‘green’ advantages of LPG, which offers consistent performance both indoors and out and so such versatility can significantly cut operating costs by eliminating the need to ‘double up’ on separate trucks for each environment. LPG supplier, Calor, even goes so far as to claim that they are clean enough to be used internally, even for handling foodstuffs and clothes. That, however, is arguable.
The diesel engine industry is not giving up the fight easily, either. Volkswagen now offers forklift diesel engines that will comply with the new requirements of Tier 4 Final/Stage 111B that come into force next year. These will be applicable to trucks up to 3 tonne lift capacity. The result will be even lower toxic emissions. But whatever the future holds for motive power sources, the three main protagonists will be around for some time yet.
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