Lithium-ion batteries are a relatively new technology, having been first introduced in the 1990s. Lithium-ion batteries have many different compounds, probably the most known found in these batteries is Lithium Iron Phosphate. It is much more compact and energy dense than lead acid. The cells are sealed shut and require no water maintenance.
These days, lithium-ion batteries are used in many portable electronic devices and vehicles and are growing in popularity for military and aerospace applications too.
Lead acid vs. Lithium-ion forklift battery – which is better?
Lead-acid batteries come in a case with an electrolyte, water and sulphuric acid mixture, and they look very like any standard car battery. These batteries generate chemical reactions between the lead plates and the sulphuric acid and require maintenance and water top ups. This type of battery has been refined over the years, but the continuous maintenance can be a drawback.
Lithium-ion technology was introduced in consumer markets in 1991. Lithium-ion batteries can be found in most of our portable devices, like smartphones, tablets, and cameras. They also power electric cars, like Tesla.
Generally, a major factor in choosing batteries is definitely the price. Lead-acid forklift batteries are cheaper than lithium-ion ones but, because of its durability and convenience, with the lithium-ion option, you will save money in the long run so they are a safe investment?
Test the battery periodically
You should have your forklift’s battery professionally tested regularly, especially if it shows symptoms of weakness. This will help to avoid electrical component failure.
Are Lithium-ion forklift batteries expensive?
They are more expensive than lead batteries, but the benefits of using them could be considered as an investment. Because lithium-ion batteries last so much longer than traditional lead-acid batteries, savings can be quite substantial over the much longer life span of this forklift power source.
Are Lithium-ion batteries worth their higher price?
If you are running multi-shift operations, it’s a no brainer that lithium-ion batteries pay for themselves in just a few years. An average single-shift operation will find lithium-ion batteries pay for themselves in about five years, sometimes even less. In addition, as they can last up to four times longer, you’ll be buying batteries less often too.
How can lithium-ion batteries contribute to a cost-efficient warehouse operation?
- You will save money you would have spent on energy for charging batteries
- Less time and labour involved by workers swapping out lead-acid batteries
- Less time and labour spent maintaining and watering lead-acid batteries
- Reduced waste of energy (a lead-acid battery normally uses up to 50% of its energy through heat, while a lithium battery uses only up to 15%)
- Lithium-ion batteries massively helped the explosion of sales in the personal electronics industry, but haven’t had the same impact on industrial equipment as yet, so swapping to lithium-ion batteries now can be an investment in the future.
Why use Lithium-ion forklift batteries?
Lithium batteries are quicker to charge and can save you money by not having to rely on watering, cleaning and equalising required by other types of forklift batteries. You also get longer and consistent performance compared to other batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries contain on average three times more energy than standard batteries, provide consistent voltage, and don’t slow down your machine as they discharge.
They are safer to use for your staff and a better option for the environment, having a lifecycle up to 4 times longer and are up to 30% more energy efficient, they are safer and greener because they do not emit CO2 gas, and there’s no risk of acid spills.
Lead-acid batteries need 8 hours to charge and another 8 hours to cool down, whilst a lithium-ion battery can be fully charged in as little as an hour, making more efficient use of opportunity charging during breaks, resulting in an ideal choice for multi-shift operations.
Different types of forklift batteries
Flat plate batteries
They are the standard battery for most forklifts and pallet jacks. They are manufactured using a grid usually made from a lead alloy with around 3 to 6% antimony, pasted on a machine with a mixture of lead oxide. Various other processes are carried out until the plate sets hard like cement, creating the familiar battery plate.
Tubular plate batteries
These batteries offer longer run times and higher voltages under load than flat plate batteries. These batteries have the drawback that they don’t experience as many years of service as a standard battery.
High amp-hour batteries
They are more reliable than tubular and can be a good option if the business only experiences higher demand sporadically, or needs a back up second battery.
Waterless batteries are a good choice for customers who want to reduce labour costs. Waterless batteries do, in fact, need water, but much less frequently – as little as every other month.
These don’t need to be watered and are ideal for clean and environmentally conscious applications such as in the pharmacy or food handling sectors, because there is no gas or spill danger. The minor downside to maintenance-free batteries is a shorter warranty period on larger units.
Forklift battery handling, exchange and extraction
If your business needs to replace batteries between shifts, there are options to make forklift battery extraction a lot easier. Here are a few of the most popular:
Battery slide-out with side covers
This add-on allows the battery to slide out of the side of the battery compartment for easier and faster replacement. An extractor unit is needed, but the change out can be done by one person for increased staff productivity.
Side extraction – with fork pockets and side covers
This method allows an operator to extract the battery using another forklift. You do not need an extractor unit, only a second forklift to lift out the battery.
Battery lift-out beam with swivel hook
Another option, which does not require modifications to the forklift, is using a battery lift-out beam with a swivel hook. However, using another forklift or an A-frame gantry crane requires a second person and is more hazardous. The A-frame gantry is good but it requires a lot more space in the warehouse.
Environmental impact and recycling
Lithium-ion forklift batteries are quite safe to use for staff as they’re completely sealed, therefore there is no risk of acid spills or corrosion, or any other sort of contamination. These batteries carry a tiny risk of a corrosive gas expelling if it comes in contact with water, but it’s quite rare.
When choosing a battery for your forklift fleet, it may help to consider the recyclable element of the battery you choose. For example, lead batteries have a well-established recycling programme that makes them easy to recycle. Lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, are less well-established in the motive power industry and are a bit harder to recycle.
By being environmentally aware, and using recyclable batteries, you can reduce the total cost of ownership of your batteries by selling the used batteries to recycling organisations and recovering some money (or, at least, not having to pay an extra disposal fee). This can help you stretch your budget a bit when the time comes to buy new batteries.
Can you recycle Lithium-ion batteries safely?
They can be recycled but not in regular bins. The contents of lithium-ion batteries are not as toxic as most other battery types, which means they are easier and safer to recycle. The only drawback is that lithium is highly reactive and because these batteries have a flammable electrolyte and pressurised contents, they could ignite and burst into flames.
A risk to consider with old lithium-ion batteries is when they are stored in dry recycling trucks surrounded by flammable items like paper and cardboard. Pressure or heat, especially during the summer, could make lithium-ion batteries self-combust, this is one of the most common fire starters in recycling trucks.
Efficient batteries help improve warehouse productivity
If your business depends on forklifts to operate, the type of industrial battery you choose will have a major impact on your company’s overall efficiency – and that’s true if you have just one electric lift vehicle or an entire fleet of forklifts in use. Depending on which type of electric forklift battery you choose, you could save a lot of money and time in the long run, reducing your margins and increasing profits.
One issue faced by many forklift fleets that use battery-powered forklifts is the need to have three batteries for each forklift in operation: one for use in the forklift, a fully charged standby battery to replace it, and one battery in the charger. This is the traditional method for avoiding excessive downtime when batteries need to be changed.
However, the time is taken to dismount the battery in the forklift, load in the standby, and replace the battery on the charger with the depleted battery still cuts into the productivity of the forklift operator.
One way to improve efficiency is by going green and using eco-friendly, highly efficient batteries that can last longer per charge and don’t take as much time to charge, so there is no need to have as many batteries on standby.
If you have any questions about lithium batteries for forklifts, give us a call!
At complete Material Handling we believe in products that simply work. Our vision is to build simple but powerful tools that support the daily operations of our customers at a reasonable price level. No matter what the needs of your business, we can offer a wide range of forklift batteries, from occasional operation up to multi-shift applications, in high-frequency distribution centres.
Find out more about lithium-ion batteries for your forklift or other forklift products by contacting our friendly staff