Hybrid Forklifts

In past articles we have discussed several different power options for forklifts including gasoline and propane to electric and hydrogen fuel cells. One that we haven’t discussed is hybrid forklifts –- a combination of electric and gas.

Fuel cell forklift.
(Courtesy: Toyota Forklifts at flickr.com)

Many advocates of hybrid forklifts believed that it would prevent the decline of internal combustion engine forklifts, but it has not gotten the traction many in the industry thought that it would.

One forklift manufacturer that has given hybrid forklifts a go is Toyota. That’s not surprising since the Japanese manufacturer introduced the first hybrid car –- the Prius –- way back in the 1990s. Hybrid cars have done well, but hybrid forklifts, not that well.

Hybrid forklift.
(Courtesy: Forklift Driving School at flickr.com)

The research and development departments of manufacturers that offer hybrid forklifts use the hybrid powertrain on both large and smaller forklifts.

Many believe that hybrid looked attractive at one time due to fuel costs. However, those who may be in the know concerning why hybrid forklifts have not taken off, say that the technology is too complex and that electric forklifts have garnered some support due to their familiarity in other aspects of material handling.

Some say that companies contemplating a transition into hybrid forklifts, have now moved fully into electric. They have found that maintenance and servicing is much easier than with hybrid.

There are advocates of hybrid who believe that it needs more time to develop. They say that some interesting hybrid technologies are now in development including multimode energy control and management systems that make engines work for extended periods. This effectively reduces fuel consumption and exhaust emissions. They like the fact that due to the battery, there are now attempts to recover kinetic energy from braking.

Advantages of hybrid forklifts include:

· Hybrid forklifts use an estimated 50% less fuel.
· They are safer for the environment because they emit less CO2.
· Mileage is better.
· Tires used on hybrid forklifts are much harder and inflated.
· Driving is smooth.
· They operate with less noise.

Disadvantages of hybrid forklifts include:

· Hybrid forklifts are expensive to buy.
· Winter can affect the working functions of hybrid forklifts.
· They weigh more than electric or fuel cell lifts, which adversely affects the advantages of fuel economy.
· Hybrid forklifts are very complex so are more costly to maintain.

Many argue that there is now a battle between advocates of hybrid lifts and advocates of fuel cell lifts concerning what technology will power forklifts in the future.

The jury is still out and forklift manufacturers’ R&D departments are hard at work determining the answer.

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