For some years there has been much discussion over the timetable for adoption of emerging motive power technologies, a reflection, perhaps, of the reluctance of industry to invest heavily until the business case has been clearly proven. These emerging technologies like hydrogen fuel cells, bio gas, lithium (Li) and ironphosphate batteries have in some cases been trialled for up to 15 years so are we now much closer to proving the cost case issue?
On the environmental issue the case for adoption is indisputable and so, too, is the business case in certain scenarios, but there are still some road blocks to widespread adoption, like the infrastructural investment needed to be in place, and that means a partnership between supplier and buyer to find the business case.
Of the new technologies, Li looks a hot favourite to be the number one and may even replace the longstanding lead-acid batteries. Toyota already has an almost full range of Li-ion warehouse trucks whose batteries are 30% more efficient than lead-acid, with a longevity up to four times as long. They can also be charged much more quickly. These trucks are lead-acid vehicles that have been modified to take a lighter battery pack but the company is working on purposebuilt concept trucks. Although Li is much more ubiquitous and has been under development much longer than Iron-phosphate batteries the latter could become a significant challenger to Li. Developed by the Chinese company, BYD, this ‘battery for life’ is maintenance-free and there is no need to change it during recharging.
The current acceptance of Li in Western Europe, where there has been a clear shift from IC to electric, varies from country to country. “The proportion is probably 5-15%, depending on the country’ but now it’s being ordered on a regular basis,” says Hans van Leeuvren, executive vice president of Toyota Materials Handling Europe. He believes that where there is a continuous operation the payback time is two to three years, and assuming that the battery has a lifetime of five to six years that leaves three years to earn money on it.
The watchwords are continual operation. The same necessity applies to hydrogen fuel cells because owing to their much higher cost than lead-acid batteries they need to be applied in large fleets on multi-shift operations if they are to achieve an ROI of only 12 months, according to some claimants. The nature of the customer’s operation, therefore, heavily influences the justification for adopting new motive power technologies. Niclas Sternarup, director of R&D at Toyota MH Europe, says the company is now conducting test and pilot projects in Japan for both hybrid and fuel cells. “Sooner or later they will come to Europe,” he says.
Lead-acid, however, will not be conceding defeat anytime soon. Most users do not run 24/7 operations and there are still significant enhancements to be had through adoption of improved electric batteries and chargers, which means the advantages diesel and LPG had over electric, in terms of their performance in all conditions, no longer apply. The more intelligent chargers can give improved efficiency of up to 90%, but only if one avoids buying cheaply.
There is, perhaps something most operators may missing about the new energy systems such as fuel cells and Lithium. These emerging technologies will make it possible to redesign rucks completely, so that the customers becomes more efficient in their space usage.