Whilst automotive fuel technologies are changing, as too are forklift fuel energies. A more conscious world in regards to the environment and costs are changing the industry towards a better future.
Since the early 20th century when the first forklift came about, powering such equipment has always been a key issue. This is dependant on the nature of the application and environmental conditions in which the forklift operates. Soon after the first combustion forklift, the requirement to store product more efficiently was deteremined and as such the first electric forklift was born. The initial purpose of the electric forklift was to reduce the footprint of the machine thus reducing aisle space required and increasing storage space. Since then, the electric forklift has evolved in terms of machine technology, not battery technology.
Lead Acid traction batteries have, for majority of the electric forklift history, been the stalwart of energy supply to the machines. The techology is simple, effective and highly configurable to suit the different sizes of machines and their specific requirements. There are however some significant drawbacks which, until now, have been unavoidable. These are obviously the use of toxic and dangerous metals (i.e. lead & acid) and there associated risks. Then there is the maintenance which includes the constant checking of water and acid levels which have their own inherent risks and concerns. As such, and suprisingly only recently, have companies been more focused on mitigating these risks with additional infrastructure within the warehouse to prevent or treat workplace accidents from acid splashes and contamination.
Today, Koala Forklifts is able to offer Lithium Ion technology batteries that are not only fitted to forklifts, but are also integrated. Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) technology removes the acid and toxic chemicals that are in the traditional lead acid batteries thus removing the requirement for the additional infrastructure requirements such as splash stations and eye wash. The technology also removes the requirement for regular maintenance such as watering systems and acid adjustments. The benefits don't stop there.
Lithium-ion batteries have a lifecycle of 3000 or more compared to just 500-1000 cycles in lead acid. Lithium-ion batteries generally last for several times the number of cycles as lead acid batteries, leading to a longer effective lifespan for lithium-ion products. Cycles are also counted in % of charge rather than one cycle every time you connect the battery to the charger. This means: 10% charge is 1/10 of a cycle with a Li-Ion battery, while a 10% charge at a lead acid battery is 1 full cycle.
While lead acid batteries always need a full charge cycle of 8-12 hours to keep the batteries chemistry in balance, LI-Ion batteries really like opportunity charging. They can be plugged in the wall and charge for 10 Minutes during a lunch break. This offers a unique way to work your shifts and reduce the overall Ah carried around in the truck.
Lithium-ion batteries offer high power density which cause lithium-ion batteries to be relatively small and light. It is only one-third the weight of lead-acid batteries. This offers manufacturers the opportunity to develop the forklifts with higher standards of ergonomics, bigger legroom and better performing trucks due to the smaller size and weight of the batteries.
Most lithium-ion batteries are 95 percent efficient or more, meaning that 95 percent or more of the energy stored in a lithium-ion battery is actually able to be used. Conversely, lead acid batteries see efficiencies closer to 80 to 85 percent.
Higher efficiency batteries charge faster, improved efficiency means a higher effective battery capacity. Lithium batteries takes 2-3 hours to charge while lead-acid needs 8 hours. Lithium batteries high effective capacity reduces downtime in warehouse duties.
Gel & AGM Batteries
Gel cell batteries and AGM batteries, whilst similar in some respects are very much different. The main difference between AGM and GEL batteries is that a GEL deep cycle battery is constructed by using a gel paste in which the electrolyte is suspended inside the battery case. In an AGM Battery, the electrolyte is wicked up into a glass matt internally so it can never spill, which is a massive safety advantage.
These batteries are generally used for smaller forklifts, such as power pallets, stackers and the like. However, as the lithium technology becomes more prevalent within the industry it will not be long before we start seeing these two types phased out in favour of the newer technology.
LPG, CNG & Other Fuels
LP Gas is a preferred energy source for many industrial applications because of its clean burning nature, reliability and cost efficiency. LPG is the most popular internal combustion forklift fuels in metropolitan areass, due to its portability, ease and cleanliness compared to other fuels such as diesel. Depending on the size of the size and fleet, we can customise LPG delivery from singular LPG bottles for easy swapping, or larger bulk tanks for larger fleets.
CNG or compressed natural gas is a cleaner alternative to LPG, however there are some drawbacks. The transition to using CNG to power fork lift trucks is
straightforward as almost any facility located on or near a natural gas pipeline can make use of the fuel. Using a simple compression unit, operators can turn this raw gas into a suitable fuel source ready for rapid dispensation onto the
forklift. Within just a few minutes, the driver can fuel the forklift truck, without lifting heavy LPG bottles or having to wait for batteries to charge and, without the risk of diesel or petrol spillage. This is not a common option for most warehouses due the infrastructure costs to setup and the modifications required on the forklifts.
Whilst the future may be uncertain, there is a growing consensus that the fuels in which we use at home and at work need to be sustainable and eco friendly. As exemplified by battery, diesel, and LPG fuelling systems, solutions that are implemented are generally around for years if not decades - or until such time as a more viaable, sustainable energy source or technology is discovered. One of these future technologies is the hydrogen fuel cell.
Hydrogen is one viable alternative energy source. When it comes to material handling equipment or even automobiles and factories, hydrogen fuel cells have proven to be a realistic replacement for today’s conventional means of powering machinery and equipment.
Hydrogen is a chemical element that can be found in natural resources like plants and water. While there is a finite amount of naturally-occurring hydrogen in the atmosphere, the element can be produced in alternative ways, including steam reforming, electrolysis, and gasification. A fuel cell is a cell that produces an electric current as a direct result of a chemical reaction.
Proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells are currently the most viable type used for powering industrial equipment such as forklifts. Similar to a battery, PEM fuel cells utilize a cathode, anode, and an electrolyte to transfer electrons along an electrical path to power the forklift. Unlike a lead acid battery, however, this process occurs using only hydrogen and oxygen found naturally in the atmosphere. The electrolyte, in this case, is a membrane that allows only positively charged ions to pass to the cathode, leaving negatively charged electrons to power the forklift. When the electrons, positively charged ions, and oxygen pulled in from the environment come together at the end of the circuit, it creates water as a byproduct that flows out of the fuel cell.
Whilts hydrogen fuel cells are still in their infancy when it comes to forklifts, there is still much discussion about the application of the technology within the market. The supply chain requirements of hydrogen, delivery systems and production of forklifts are still being mapped out, and when you have clean technology available such as lithium batteries, is it too late for hydrogren already or is there still a market. The future of forklift fuel, for one thing, is going to be exciting as the industry determines which technology will be the replacement of the existing fuels.