While currently there may still be a role for ICE forklifts, the trend to electrics continues apace, but which form of electric power would suit you best and should you consider other power sources like hydrogen fuel cells? Moreover, will that stalwart of lead-acid batteries still have a long-term role? Before ditching diesel or LPG trucks on environmental and health grounds Hyster, a relative newcomer to electric forklifts, advises that when considering a move over to electrics the choice depends on what the trucks would be doing as to what the customers should choose. The right choice of forklifts can significantly affect the overall performance and cost of an operation.

In some instances an ICE truck may be more suitable. Even so, Hyster sees a shift to electrics, as in the right conditions it can improve efficiency, particularly in terms of battery power and the associated cost of ownership, including maintenance costs. The performance disparity between electric and ICE trucks, where the latter delivered more punch, no longer exists, and Hyster is even working on all-electric container handling trucks and reach stackers for the ports of Los Angeles and Valencia.

Now that the case for a switch over to electrics is strong it remains to decide which form of electric power to choose. It depends on many factors to find the best solutions for the different application needs, says Hyster. In general, however, electric forklifts with lead-acid batteries are still often considered the best option for many indoor logistics operations, partly because of their low initial cost compared with Li-ion batteries. This may be the wrong way to assess costs because it is the total cost of ownership that should exercise minds, and that will depend on users’ operational conditions.

If, for example, a 24-hr operations pertains then it would be no contest because, unlike lead-acid batteries with all their unwanted irritants of gassing, acid spills and battery changeovers, Li-ion can take advantage of opportunity charging during normal break times and can fast charge, thus eliminating the need for standby lead-acid batteries and possibly even reduce the number of forklifts. Advances in Li-ion batteries should also see their costs falling vis-à-vis lead-acid, and Li-ion much longer longevity is also a big plus. However, one exception is fast-charging, lead-acid batteries from Espex Batteries’ new battery that offers rapid recharge and opportunity charging, rivalling Li-ion batteries in multi-shift operations while still being much more economical, claims Espex. And unlike Li-ion batteries, existing electrical mains wiring and battery chargers can be used, rather than needing to be replaced at significant cost.

A contender to Li-ion worth considering is BYD’s lithium iron-phosphate batteries, from whom software allows trials of new batteries to analyse the cost metrics of diesel versus lithium. Not to be left out is the hydrogen fuel cell which can be charged in under seven minutes as opposed to 8-10 hours for lead-acid batteries. They are certainly viable in multi-shift operations and were given the seal of approval by giant users like Amazon and Walmart who have each committed $600 million to them. Currently, however, they are not economically viable in most cases but as with Li-ion, fuel cell prices could fall as the industry grows.

Charles Smith

Feature Writer