In the struggle to cut transport carbon emissions the final victor will most likely be the fuel choice that is the most cost and timeeffective in reaching widespread acceptance. Currently the auguries favour electric, partly because of costs and partly because it will reach the carbon-free time targets quicker than its rivals like hydrogen and biomass. But where does that leave diesel, LPG, CNG and bio-mass?
A distinction should be made between road transport and offroad industrial vehicles like forklifts because the latter pose fewer acceptance problems, especially for large users, when looking to switch to a cleaner motive power source. This means that a good case could already be made for hydrogenpowered forklifts, without the need for any heavy taxpayers’ subsidies, whereas hydrogen cars and lorries will likely need Government subsidies to install a network of filling stations. Amazon and Walmart have already shown their confidence in hydrogen forklifts by each committing US$600 million for them. At present, hydrogen is said to be 10% cheaper over a 10- year life span of an average forklift but falling prices are already making that figure outdated.
The pending demise of diesel may have been exaggerated, mainly in the trade press, because there is still a reluctance to give them up, as the BITA statistics show, revealing that diesel sales have maintained their volumes. In the past, there was a strong case for remaining with diesel on operational grounds. They were seen as well suited to outdoor work in all weathers, with their high torque, ease of refuelling and maintenance and moderate operating costs. Advances in battery and charging technology, however, are now eroding those diesel advantages in performance efficiency, purchase and running costs while also making them suitable for outdoor work in all weathers. Just how remarkable that cost transformation is can be seen in Covers Timber and Builders Merchants’ experience when they swapped their diesel forklift for a Doosan electric. The fuel cost comparison showed that diesel cost £2.30 per hour against only £0.29 per hour for the new electric truck. There also remains the health and environmental problems of diesel and LPG and time has already been called on that. Diesel engine makers have fought back by dramatically improving their emissions’ record but all this adds costs to the truck’s purchase prices and maintenance costs and still pose a carbon emissions and health problem.
Much the same can be said for LPG, which while cleaner than diesel, nevertheless poses environmental issues and it is questionable as to whether they should still be used for indoor work. There seems little point in going for hybrids owing to their higher purchase and maintenance costs deriving from two motive drives, and like diesel and LPG are not 100% squeaky clean.
The main battle ground is likely to be battery power choice between the old stalwarts of lead-acid and the new contenders of lithium-ion and lithium iron-phosphate. The latter may be up to four times more costly than lead-acid batteries but they can be charged in one hour and are 30% more energy efficient, with a life span of up to four times as much. Standby batteries, therefore, can be eliminated along with maintenance. The future seems electrifying.