Li-ion battery technology is a game-changer in the forklift industry

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Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery technology represents one of the biggest game-changers in the forklift industry in recent times, according to Elite Forklift Rental MD Jéan du Preez. While battery-powered forklifts are far ‘greener’ than ones powered by internal combustion engines, traditional lead-acid batteries run the risk of premature failure if not maintained properly.

Other disadvantages of lead-acid batteries are that they tend to get over-discharged, meaning they run completely flat before being charged again. In addition, the battery water level has to be monitored constantly to prevent it from running dry, while a full charge typically requires an eight-hour period overnight. Lead-acid batteries are also often not matched properly to the application, meaning too small units are used that are subsequently overworked.

A leading proponent of Li-ion technology for the forklift industry is CHASE Technologies, a specialist supplier of Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery packs for forklifts in materials-handling applications, reveals General Manager Brent Frazer, in addition to battery-operated heavy equipment such as cleaning equipment and access platforms. These range from small 25.6V 135Ah units, right up to larger 80V 700Ah units.

Even when LiFePO4 batteries do fall below the efficient operating nominal capacity of 65%, they can still be used in lighter-duty forklift applications or retained as storage batteries, adding value long after the warranty itself has expired. LiFePO4 batteries are sealed units that do not require topping up of electrolyte or periodic acid adjustment, and no equalisation charge or cooling periods either.

LiFePO4 is also environment friendly. It reduces heavy metal pollution as it is produced without any cadmium, lead or mercury. The energy density of LiFePO4 is about 140 Wh/kg or three times that of lead-acid batteries. In comparison, LiFePO4 is only around 33% of the volume and 25% of the weight of lead-acid batteries. This means much higher-capacity batteries can be used in the same compartment, with greater configuration flexibility.

A LiFePO4 battery-powered vehicle can travel 1.35 times longer or further than the same vehicle fitted with a similar capacity lead-acid battery. During charge and discharge, the energy-conversion efficiency of the former is about 98%, compared to a maximum of 85% efficiency for lead-acid, translating into a significant 15% electricity saving.

With the appropriate ultra-fast chargers from CHASE Technologies, a Li-ion battery can absorb 50% of its capacity from a boost charge time of just 30 minutes. A full charge can be achieved in 60 to 120 minutes, dependent on the charger capacity. Rapid and opportunity charging ensures 24/7 availability. A full charge does not need to occur in one continuous charge but is equally effective with compound brief charges during breaks. There is no memory effect, which means opportunity charging is ideal for heavy-duty working conditions in long and multiple shifts.

Du Preez reveals that he established Elite Forklift Rentals about 13 years ago to complement Elite Truck Hire. “Many trucks require forklifts for unloading, so it was a natural synergy.” To date, the company has purchased several battery packs from CHASE Technologies, complete with ultra-fast chargers. Li-ion now makes up around 10% of Elite’s electric forklift fleet, with the potential to increase this even further in the near future.

“We are finding that a lot of clients are opting for forklift rental as opposed to outright purchase as it not only saves on the initial capital outlay but provides an ideal solution for service and maintenance as well. This allows clients to budget far more accurately as their forklift costs are effectively fixed for the duration of the contract period,” highlights du Preez.

“In addition, dealing with a reputable industrial equipment supplier such as ourselves gives customers peace of mind that they not only have the right equipment for their current requirements but can request to exchange the equipment to suit their changing requirements. Li-ion gives us the flexibility to be able to cater to the diverse needs of our clients in the current business environment,” du Preez concludes.