While forklift motive power choice will always be heavily influenced by the needs of any specific application, and few applications are identical, one should be aware that advances in technology and new legislation are changing the parameters so that what may have favoured one fuel source before may no longer be so convincing today. Nowhere have these advances been more evident than in the field of electric trucks.

The pros and cons of the three main fuels, diesel, LPG and electric, have been set in stone for decades. Citing the disadvantages of electric, for example, against diesel and LPG it was said that electric’s initial cost was higher and the need for multiple batteries in multi-shifts, each of which could cost 20% of a truck’s total cost, an added cost burden. Moreover, electrics were seen to lack performance punch in comparison with engine-powered trucks.

Advances in battery technologies and chargers, however, have begun to change these perceptions. Despite electric’s higher initial costs they have long been cheaper in their running costs and it is these life cycle costs which should take precedence. The advent of lithium-ion and iron-phosphate batteries has now removed the necessity to keep more than one battery for multi-shift work because not only can they profit from opportunity charging but can be fully re-charged in one hour.

They may be three to four times more costly than lead-acid batteries but their life spans are much longer, typically the life-time of a truck, and their quick-charge facility means that their lower life cycle costs seriously challenge not only lead-acid batteries but also diesel and LPG, when added to electric’s improved performance punch, now the equal of enginepowered trucks. It is little wonder that leading truck manufacturers like Linde Materials Handling is now offering lithium-ion options for all its models up to five tonnes lift capacity.

New environmental legislation is, of course, putting more pressure on diesel but the engine manufacturers are not giving up in their efforts to improve their emissions credentials even more by meeting Stage V (EUR5) implementation in 2019. But for those considering new truck investments and still wedded to engine power but have concerns over air pollution then LPG may suit them better. These trucks produce 45% less CO2, up to 99% fewer nitrogen oxide pollutants, 63% less carbon monoxide, 70% fewer hydrocarbons and 90% fewer particulates. In many cases they could be used internally though it would be inadvisable in sensitive sites like food and pharma.

Other motive power sources like hydrogen fuel cells will continue to take market share from other fuels but perhaps slowly because they are perceived to be only currently viable for large fleets with roundthe- clock work schedules. It is also possible that vanadium-flow batteries will broaden customer fuel choices even more. There is no dispute that it is superior to lithium-ion in large-scale grid applications. They last longer (don’t degrade for over 20 years) and can be discharged repeatedly without any drop in performance and are easy to recycle. Recharging takes only 5-10 minutes and they are non-flammable. Apart from its potential for buses and taxis it seems likely that they could be used for 24-hour forklifts

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