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Should you buy a lithium battery forklift?

The original battery-powered forklifts used lead acid batteries, and they still make up a large proportion of the sales due to lithium ion batteries being much more expensive. Enhanced lead acid batteries are the most recent development of lead acid technology and offer 25% longer run-time than traditional lead acid batteries.

Change and charge station for forklift lead acid batteries (note the gantry crane required)

Enhanced lead acid makes electric forklifts more appealing for heavy applications and in extreme temperatures, as opposed to diesel. Combined with regenerative braking and opportunity charging with no degradation, the benefits look similar to lithium ion but with less charging infrastructure required.

Lithium ion is gaining popularity and adoption across all manner of machines. While it still represents a small proportion of forklift power units, is it worth you considering it for your business?

What are the advantages of lithium ion forklift batteries?

  • The batteries can use rapid opportunity charging or charging on the go, meaning fewer trips to the charging station. A rapid charge can give a 90% charge in around an hour.
  • Businesses that double-shift their forklifts may find they can go two shifts without needing to pull the forklift off the floor.
  • The power source is more energy efficient than lead acid, meaning businesses are choosing a solution which might help meet their sustainability goals.
  • The battery should last 5000 cycles, as opposed to lead acid which is more like 1500 cycles.
  • There’s no topping up, no gassing, no acid and minimal maintenance required.

What are the disadvantages of lithium ion forklift batteries?

  • The initial purchase price is much higher, and solid demand for lithium in electric vehicles and other battery-driven goods may keep it there.
  • If you operate a large number of forklifts that all need charging at the same time, the charging infrastructure can get expensive as there’s a large AC power requirement. You may need to stagger break times to avoid having to install a load management system on your power supply.
  • It’s not always possible to swap lead acid batteries to lithium ion batteries in older forklifts, therefore any lithium ion forklift might have to be a new one rather than retrofitting an existing one.
  • The battery life can be longer than the life of the forklift, and they are not always able to be swapped to a new unit. This means that you have paid for a power source that may become unusable.

Should you change all your electric forklifts to lithium batteries?

A hybrid model of some lead acid and some lithium is often a good compromise. Each forklift can be used to its main advantages. Starting with just one or two lithium ion forklifts will enable you to iron out any issues and plan your charging infrastructure. Ensure that you give training to any people charging or replacing batteries.

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Darren has written over 3000 articles about driving and vehicles, plus almost 500 vehicle reviews and numerous driving courses. Connect with him on LinkedIn by clicking the name above

Posted in Advice, Forklift