|Linde E12 - Electric Forklift|
Yes, this is still EV Sales, i've decided to write about forklifts because road cars and forklifts have been following a similar path regarding fuel sources, so let's see how specific market more closely.
In about 1910 the US market saw the introduction of the first powered platform trucks.
The first designs were battery-driven through a DC electric motor, which was connected to the drive wheels by a simple sprocket and chain arrangement. Gasoline engine-driven machines followed a few years later and companies such as Baker and Elwell Parker built forklifts with a gasoline engine driving an electric motor, producing the first hybrids.
The diesel engine appeared only in 1947, the company was Coventry Climax, which produced both an engine and a conventional gearbox with two forward and two reverse gears. The US company Yale followed in 1950, with the first LPG fueled engine. Forklifts can be powered by an ICE that can be fueled with LPG, CNG, gasoline or diesel fuel.
Electricity was present since the beginning of forklifts.
Share by Fuel Source
The most popular are the diesel and LPG versions that equip about half of the world total forklift fleet, with battery-powered vehicles representing 30%, and the remaining 20% being distributed between gasoline and CNG.
There are regional preferences, in the US the LPG forklift fleet represents the majority of the fleet, while in continental Europe, the predominant technology are the battery powered forklifts (60% Share).
The battery-powered engines adoption are years ahead of road cars, so a few lessons can be learned here.
Pros and Cons of Electric Forklifts
The electric motors may be either DC or AC types. Electric forklifts are mainly chosen for their low fuel and maintenance costs, with noiseless and emission-free performances. And they are more accurate machines.
The average mileage for forklifts can be as high as 30 000 km but 20 000 km is a standard figure, furthermore, mileage is not so important for forklifts as standstill steps fill a major share of the workload of such vehicles.
Little by little, the park of forklifts is being transformed into an all-electric park, although outdoor forklifts, and rough terrain ones remain ICE vehicles domains, with 24/7 intensive use forklifts having also a large percentage of ICE engines.
Battery-powered forklifts are typically powered by lead-acid batteries that can typically provide enough power for one 8-hour shift, which translates into 5 to 6 hours of constant usage.
However, the disadvantage of the battery-powered forklift is battery change-out and downtime, which impacts productivity and increases costs of operation. In a typical operation, battery change-out takes 20 to 45 minutes and charging the battery takes 8 hours, plus 8 hours of cooling time before the battery can be used. Due to this slow charging speed, multiple shift operations must typically keep extra batteries charged and available, which keeps costs high.
Like in road cars, it's harder to go electric in intensive-use environments or demanding conditions.
That's why markets with rough conditions/climates are less EV-friendly, or it's harder for EV's to go into market segments where vehicles are built for high mileage.
- There are a few Fuel-Cell Forklifts, but this technology is still in early stages and represent marginal sales.
- Fuel cell forklifts can improve the replacement of ICE forklifts which is done now by replacing them with battery-electric forklifts. Their superior range will be important and on-site noise and emission performances will be kept. Thus, fuel cell forklifts will replace ICE's in the larger and more intensive use segment, while the electric forklift will continue to absorb the rest of the market.
- It will be difficult for fuel cell vehicles to replace the electric ones as they offer the same advantages (noiseless, emission free, good energetic efficiency) with some drawbacks for the moment (supply of hydrogen, costs), unless the forklifts are operated 24 hrs/day and the three batteries changes required to ensure a continuous work would be largely covered by the use of a Fuel Cell.
Fuel Cells have a future in the auto industry, most likely in the higher end of the market (Large sedans, big SUV's, full-size Pick-ups...), where the higher cost isn't that important and the increased range and faster refill are big points in favor, in the typical larger trips that this kind of vehicles do.