In 2015, the first lithium-ion battery pack for industrial forklifts was launched. Surprisingly, just six months ago, the industry journal Material Handling and Logistics reported that lithium-ion batteries were “not suitable for forklifts” because “the application of forklifts may have different requirements. For example, voltage below or peak current is higher than existing power applications."
In the end, the lithium-ion enthusiast's prediction of a life-like truck is an ordinary machine. Considering the weight requirements of a seated counterbalanced forklift, only a portable intercom truck can use a lithium ion power source. Despite this, history has taken shape.
However, one year after this blockbuster fell, lithium-ion batteries have not surpassed the lead-acid batteries of the past. There are several reasons. First, let's examine the benefits of a lithium-ion battery over a conventional forklift battery:
1. According to industry publication DC Velocity, lithium-ion batteries last longer than lead-acid batteries up to five times longer. However, the manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries is warranted for five years, which is similar to most modern lead-acid batteries. This makes the difference in longevity doubtful.
2. Even the most advanced lead-acid batteries require a cooling interval between charging and use. The lithium-ion battery pack can be used immediately.
3. Similarly, lithium-ion batteries do not require balanced charging. They are not water or acid, so there is little need for maintenance.
4. Essentially, the appeal of lithium-ion batteries and the fact that they are an essential power source for personal electronic devices is a combination of extremely light weight and high energy density. However, the forklift market has different requirements than laptops, mobile phones and tablets that have benefited a lot from lithium-ion batteries.
These benefits are undoubtedly tempting. However, lead batteries still dominate the electric forklift market and there is a reason to be dominant in the next few years. A report frequently quoted by Navigant Research's Lisa Jerram predicts that at least by 2020, conventional lead-acid batteries for forklifts will dominate, and this situation seems likely to continue beyond Jerram's research.
The reasons are as follows:
1. Electric counterbalance forklifts and lead-acid forklift batteries grow together. They are sister technologies. Contemporary crane truck designs depend on the weight of conventional batteries to provide a balance of load. No manufacturer can propose a more efficient combination of power and basic balance than lead acid batteries.
2. The cost of lithium-ion batteries is still high. In 2015, DC Velocity cited industry estimates of cost differences: the price of the lithium-ion battery is “four to five times the cost of lead acid per hour in watts,” reports.
3. Lithium is a limited resource. It can only be found in some remote areas of the world. There is no shortage of lithium today, but if every lead-acid battery is replaced by a lithium-ion battery, future supply may become a problem. In contrast, most components in lead-acid batteries are recovered from existing resources.
4. Manufacturers have little chance of allowing the kind of fire and explosion that plagues cheaper lithium-ion batteries. Despite this, the need for thermal runaway control continues to increase battery prices, and potential shutdown protection measures may affect battery usage.
5. At the same time, lead-acid battery technology is also constantly improving. Battery handling equipment can significantly reduce the costs associated with conventional forklift batteries, making them more affordable, durable and efficient than lithium-ion or hydrogen fuel cells.
Lead-acid batteries are constantly evolving along with competitive technologies. As long as forklift manufacturers adhere to traditional design, a new generation of efficient, environmentally friendly lead-acid batteries will remain the most common source of power for electric forklifts.
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