Chinese Company Has a Big Idea in Forklift Batteries

Using your forklift breaks is imperative in all phases of material handling.

China’s largest battery maker believes it has discovered a new type of power supply that is faster, cheaper and more efficient than anything used up to this point: Iron-Phosphate.

BYD Company Ltd. first introduced the concept of iron-phosphate batteries — known as “Fe” batteries — at the LogiMAT trade show in 2013 and unveiled a prototype forklift powered by the innovative “green” technology at the 2014 CeMAT show.

European Invasion

Now the company is ready to rolls out its new Fe battery forklifts across Europe, according to Javier Contijoch, BYD’s European forklift director.

“Now we are 100 percent market ready in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, with a strong and experienced sales and service network in place and have other countries due for development later this year,” Contijoch told SHD Logistics.

Cheaper, Better, Faster

The specialized batteries require significantly less time to charge than traditional lead-acid batteries, plus they offer dramatically extended battery life — possibly lasting longer than the forklift itself.

Typical charging time for Fe batteries is 60 to 120 minutes, compared to four times that amount for lead-acid batteries used in most electric forklifts today. Plus, Fe batteries can be “topped off” with short 10-minute bursts of recharging during down time or breaks to add up to 45 minutes of working time to the vehicle.

The Fe battery consumes 40% less electricity during charging than the standard lead-acid battery, resulting in lower energy bills and carbon emissions, according to a BYD news release.

A Green Battery?

Plus, the Fe battery is “greener” than other existing technologies because it vents no hydrogen gasses while charging, unlike lead-acid batteries which have to be charged in vented areas. Charging stations can be positioned directly adjacent to break areas so it’s quick and easy for drivers to “park and plug” between jobs.

Iron-phosphate batteries also don’t contain any heavy metals or acid, making them safer when dropped, crushed or overcharged. And the don’t heat up the way lead-acid batteries do. Nor do they require daily and weekly battery maintenance because they don’t need to be continually topped off with distilled water.

“The upshot of all this is a very dramatic savings when using an iron-phosphate battery in a single-shift, five day a week operation,” the BYD news release stated. “The astonishing lifespan of a BYD iron-phosphate battery creates a further layer of savings, because even after 4,000 charging cycles, these amazing power cells retain over 75% of their original capacity.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells Offer Another Option

Fe batteries aren’t the only forklift power source seeking to topple lead-acid from the top of the forklift power supply heap. Hydrogen fuel cells are also promoted as being more environmentally friendly than traditional lead-acid batteries, gasoline or other types of power. And companies like Wal-Mart, Lowe’s and Sysco already have climbed on the fuel cell bandwagon, using them on at least a portion of their forklift fleets.

But despite this, there seems to be a reluctance on the part of forklift fleet managers to commit to this cutting-edge power supply.

Steve Dues, vice president for Crown Equipment, said some fleet managers are reluctant to commit to fuel cell-powered forklifts.

“There are a number of (return on investment) considerations that have yet to be fully resolved,” Dues told DC Velocity. “These include the complexity of the technology, total cost of ownership, reliability issues, and the absence of a refueling infrastructure to support widespread adoption.”

Other concerns include the need for further technological development, high acquisition costs, and the limited number of fuel cell suppliers currently in the marketplace.

Another concern is the federal 30 percent fuel cell investment tax credit, which is set to expire next year.

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