As individuals, we are all too familiar with the environmental and health concerns surrounding diesel engines.
For businesses, however, it’s hard to walk away from them. After all, diesel-powered forklift trucks are powerful performers – capable of making light work of the task at hand. Over and over again.
This unwavering loyalty was well placed. Until 2019, that is. At the start of the year, Euro Stage V requirements came into effect, creating tough decisions for companies making and employing diesel lift trucks.
What is Euro Stage V?
The legislation enforces stricter emission limits for Particular Matter (PM) and Particulate Number (PN) in engines between 19 kW and 560 kW, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation.
The tighter requirements demand a lot from manufacturers. For example, manufacturers have been required to slash PM emissions to just 0.015g/kWh – a 40% reduction from Stage IV.
Responding to this, designs have become increasingly complex, including engines which aren’t reliant on diesel particulate filters (DPF).
While these trucks continue to deliver power and are EU-compliant, these new designs mean that ownership comes at a far higher price.
Time for a change?
Many companies that rely on forklift trucks have a tendency to replace outdated models on a like-for-like basis. With 2040 and the UK ban on IC-engine vehicles approaching, however, it’s clear that companies buying lift trucks need to give their replacement strategy some thought.
Electric may be a relatively new concept in the automotive field but it’s a long-standing alternative in the lift truck industry.
With zero emissions, battery power has been the go-to choice for applications requiring absolute cleanliness, such as in the food industry.
For many decades, lead-acid batteries were the top choice for companies employing lift trucks. As well as offering power, these large, cumbersome batteries serve a second purpose: acting as the counterbalance weight.
However, they weren’t without their issues. Long charging times were just the start – with trucks often only able to work for a few hours at a time. Employers soon realised ways to work around this: investing in additional batteries and chargers.
Maintaining lead-acid batteries was also problematic due to the high risk of operator misuse. Under and overwatering, for example, can cause significant damage to lead-acid batteries. Battery life can also be reduced through opportunity charging, or charging as and when it suits you – rather than when it’s more than half empty.
Fortunately, there’s a new kid on the battery block: Lithium-Ion. Tried, tested and proven in the market, li-ion offers the capability of meeting the needs of your business… whatever your industry.
While lithium-ion technology has been adopted widely within electric vehicles, its real popularity in the material handling sector followed the launch of EP Equipment’s 1.2-tonne entry-level power pallet truck in 2016.
Previously, li-ion technology had only been available for larger equipment, at a far higher cost. Widespread adoption was unlikely as ROI could only be achieved within a hard-wearing, triple shift application.
This ground-breaking development has led to the development of further models and, according to EP Equipment, makes it possible for every class of materials handling equipment – including powerful diesel models – to be powered by li-ion technology.
Why choose li-ion?
Over the past two decades, the growth of e-commerce and warehousing has led to electric vehicles becoming more attractive in the marketplace – to both manufacturers and forklift employers.
As a result, the technology has moved quickly. While lead-acid, gel and AGM batteries were attractive a few years ago, Li-ion has gained traction thanks to its incredible efficiency.
Initial Investment and Total Cost – Diesel and Lead Acid vs Li-ion
Not only are EP’s forklifts a competitive initial investment, over time there are less costs involved in maintaining your li-ion fleet.
A straight forward comparison is diesel vs li-ion. Fuel can cost on average $25 per day, with electric charging costing just $5 per day.
With our Battery Management and Telematics systems maintenance is far easier and less costly. You can see how the battery is doing and be alerted to any issues that need to be looked at.
For lead acid batteries you need to have a dedicated space for charging the batteries for long periods of time, often overnight. With faster charging EP’s li-ion forklifts can be easily charged during the day, using break times or other downtime in the warehouse and without having to remove batteries from the forklifts. Charging can be planned into the day, rather than a longer period of 8-12 hours to achieve a full charge on lead acid batteries.
This also means that you don’t need two batteries for each forklift, another cost often involved with lead acid batteries if you want to maximise working time for the forklifts.
Batteries – Lead Acid vs Li-ion
Even within battery technology there is a difference between lead acid batteries and EP’s li-ion technology. Here are some things to consider:
|• Large battery units
• Heavy battery units
• Longer charge time
• Need for regular maintenance
• Gasing – need ventilation
• Water filling needed
• Acid risk
|• Smaller battery units
• Lighter battery units
• Mostly maintenance free
• Opportunity Charging – charge during a shift
• Fast charging – up to 50% charge in just 1 hour
• Battery Management Systems – with EP’s own BMS trucks communicate with the system allowing you to manage them better
What are the advantages of li-ion batteries and EP’s li-ion technology?
Super-long battery life
Lithium-ion technology drives battery longevity. Traditional lead-acid batteries offer a lifecycle of as little as 500 cycles, compared with 3,000 for li-ion. Typically, lithium-ion batteries last many times longer than their counterparts.
Cycles are calculated by the percentage of charge, rather than each time the battery is charged. This means that a 10% charge equates to just a tenth of a li-ion cycle. With a lead-acid alternative, that 10% would equal a full cycle.
Opportunity charging is another area where li-ion batteries are strong. Lead-acid batteries, for example, require a full charge cycle (8-12 hours) or else there’s a risk of chemical imbalance. By allowing for opportunity charging, li-ion allows you to charge as and when necessary – even during break times.
Small (and light) on space
The high-power density of li-ion technologies allows for a design that is much smaller and lighter than traditional battery alternatives. Compared to their lead-acid counterparts, li-ion batteries are two-thirds lighter.
For manufacturers, this extra space pays dividends. As well as allowing for more ergonomic features, such as increased operator compartment, performance is improved, thanks to the truck’s smaller size and weight.
With battery power, there will be a small amount of energy lost. Lead-acid batteries typically lose 15 to 20 per cent of stored energy. Conversely, the advanced design of Li-ion batteries means that losses are generally less than 5 per cent.
Improved battery capacity efficiency like this ensures much faster charging. While lead-acid batteries typically need 8 to 12 hours to charge, lithium-ion batteries for forklifts require just 2 to 3 hours to fully charge.
Maintaining lead-acid batteries comes with a number of pitfalls for employers, including water issues. Fortunately, lithium-ion batteries don’t require on-going or specialist maintenance to ensure longevity.
For employers, choosing Li-ion removes the risk, while also eliminating costs associated with battery upkeep, including maintenance and infrastructure.
Compare the costs
Before committing to a battery choice, always run a cost comparison over the life of the battery. While lead-acid batteries offer savings at the time of purchase, lithium-ion battery systems may be a more cost-efficient solution in the long term.
Remember to consider factors such as the reduced time and expense associated with charging and maintenance, as well the time and labour you’ll save by not doing battery changeovers.
Although named for its active elements, it’s important to bear in mind that not all lithium-ion batteries are created equally. Engineering a lithium-ion battery for the forklift sector requires two chemical components: Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide(NMC) and Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP).
Tried and tested in industries, such as automotive, where weight and size are important factors, NMC offers high energy density in a compact size and weight. However, it does come with a risk of inflammation and explosion, as a result of puncture or overheating.
LFP technology offers an alternative that is being embraced by leading li-ion forklift manufacturers. LFP provides outstanding electrochemical performance while ensuring low resistance. Offering a high current rating and extensive cycle life, LFP technology also provides good thermal stability. For employers, this means enhanced safety for operators and their operating environment.
Advantage of LFP li-ion battery systems
Choosing an LFP battery for larger materials handling categories, such as electric ride-on pallet trucks or electric forklifts, ensures it will deliver all of its strengths – without any risk to safety.
This is only possible using LFP batteries with li-phosphate. It offers a li-ion battery system that is far more tolerant at full charge conditions. In addition, these systems are far less stressed than li-ion alternatives when operating at high voltage for a length of time.
Check for quality
At the heart of every battery is its cell. It’s important to choose a battery with the highest quality cells, to ensure safety, improve energy and power density and extend service life.
Cells should be able to operate in a wide range of temperatures. Some manufacturer’s cells can even handle extreme weather conditions.
High-quality components prevent the risk of overheating as high current charges and discharges.
For best results, always look for a manufacturer who has been engineering customised battery solutions. This ensures that your forklift’s lithium battery components will be a perfect match for your requirements.
Check for Battery Management Systems
In recent years, safety concerns regarding lithium-based batteries have garnered a great deal of attention in media and legal circles.
Battery management systems, also known as BMS, are key to protecting a battery from a range of issues, including short circuit, over/under voltage and over current.
BMS is essential for ensuring your forklift is using the lithium-ion battery safely. Fully automated, it collects and calculates data and controls the system in response.
Its management of the charge and discharge processes for voltage, current, temperature and state of charge ensures improved battery performance while extending battery life.
A good charger is not enough to overcome the significant risks associated with lithium-ion battery fires as a result of overheating. Instead, the BMS monitors the temperature and, should it fall outside of normal parameters, communicates with the battery, forklift and charger.
The BMS also protects the battery from overheating during day-to-day use. But it does so much more: including optimising charging and storing cycles in its memory.
Stable Controller Area Network system
The Controller Area Network, also known as the CAN bus, acts as a central networking hub that allows all parts of the battery to communicate. As well as communicating battery condition information, it automatically issues an alert to the BMS when damage occurs.
Together, BMS and CAN offer remote diagnostic capabilities – enabling for battery performance to be monitored. Advanced data monitoring and analysis functions ensure issues can be identified and responded to quickly.
While there are many advantages to making the switch to an electric forklift truck, it’s clear that the biggest advances – right now – can be made by making choosing a truck benefitting from lithium-ion technologies.
For more advice on finding the best lithium-ion warehouse and counterbalance trucks for your application, contact us today.