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In recent years we have seen a plethora of fuel alternatives introduced for forklifts. The major alternatives that still stand up today continue to be electric, natural gas and diesel. Electric power is becoming a major fixture in the automotive industry as major auto manufacturers announce that they are turning more toward electric power and phasing out the internal combustion engine. BMW, Audi and Volkswagen appear to be going in that direction.
As the auto industry turns more to electric power, the material handling niche of the market is quite familiar with the benefits of electric power. But it hasn’t been able to become the dominant power source for forklifts, as it appears to be becoming in the auto industry.
Electric power forklifts appear to be favored for indoor applications. They are well liked because they have no emissions and operate quieter than the gasoline models. Moreover, electric lifts tend to be more compact and need less maintenance than the gasoline variety.
Still, natural gasoline lifts are being used both indoors and outdoors. They appear to be favored more than diesel because they are quieter, but are more costly as far as maintenance is concerned.
Current Benefits Of Diesel
The advantage of diesel appears to be greater torque that assures better acceleration and speed. Because of this many warehouses favor its use. Because of its greater torque, better acceleration, and speed, it can be used in a larger variety of applications. Other benefits are that it doesn’t require charging and, therefore can be used for longer periods with little to no interruption.
While choice of energy source is more weighted toward environmental considerations for the automotive industry, choice of what fuel to use for material handling purposes continue to be based on duty cycle, running time, and load capability. As things stand now however, no one single power source is dominating the forklift niche. That market, at least for the foreseeable future, will continue to be serviced by the big three –- electric, natural gas, and diesel.
Enhancements In Battery Technology
Although electric power is limited to the battery’s capability, battery technology continues to improve. As a result, electric could soon be used on forklifts that feature larger lifting capability than current electric lifts. Still, charging capability will continue to be an issue.
One company that’s invested in research and development in clean diesel and natural gas as well as electric and other fuel alternatives is Cummins. It has invested in two battery companies to enhance the technology of electric lifts concerning better capability and less cost.
The two battery manufacturers that are benefitting from Cummins investments are Brammo, a company based in the United States that’s focusing on low voltage batteries particularly for fork truck operations; and Johnson Matthey Battery Systems in the UK, which is concentrating on high voltage batteries for use on future electric drivelines.
Still, the availability of charging infrastructure will continue to influence the expansion of electric lifts. It is a major challenge in promoting the widespread use of electrification.
Although battery technology continues to advance, it currently does not yet equate to diesel’s power density to operate heavy-duty machinery effectively in challenging environments.
Developments In Diesel
Recent developments in diesel technology have led to the introduction of Cummins ultra-clean Stage V engine. Dubbed the Performance Series, the engine generates next to no emissions. The engine has redefined what can be achieved in using diesel technology.
The Stage V engine, which is designed for material handling equipment, range in size from 3.8-liters to 15-liters or 75 to 503 kW. Although it is less in weight, size and complexity than other diesel engines, it offers higher performance. The Cummins’ Stage V diesel engines offer an average 10 percent more power and 20 percent more torque than the company’s Stage IV engines. They are easier to install, quieter, more efficient and less expensive to operate than the Stave IV, too.
Technological innovations concerning engine design, fuel injection and exhaust after treatment has helped create a diesel engine that has a total reduction of NOX of 96 percent and reductions of particulate matter of 97 percent.