Developing new motive technologies is costly and arguably too big a job for the forklift truck manufacturers alone. Linde’s David Bowen points out: “The forklift truck industry is too small to provide the economies of scale needed to encourage many people to invest heavily in new technologies. We would need, for instance, the automotive industry to develop the technology for hydrogenfilling stations or hydrogen fuel cells and we could work on the back of that.”
So it seems likely that there will be more partnerships between forklift makers and other motor manufacturers to develop these technologies. Of course, companies like Toyota and Nissan have car divisions developing these technologies. Toyota’s hybrid car, the Prius, is now a common sight on the roads. And Toyota counterbalance trucks are now on the market in Japan with a diesel hybrid engine. Dave Rylance says the truck uses the hybrid technology from Toyota Motor Corporation, to match lift trucks that travel while handling a load and require frequent starting and stopping. “With a hybrid system that combines a diesel engine, electric motor and battery power, the geneo-hybrid realises worldclass fuel efficiency – reducing carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption by 50 per cent, while keeping the same operating performance as 3.5-tonne diesel-powered IC lift trucks.”
Hydrogen is generally seen as tantalisingly attractive. Bob Hine says: “Fuel regarded as clean, such as hydrogen for powering internal combustion engines, may be the future. Despite the
high oil price, many of these newer technologies are still too expensive – among other issues – for general use. However hydrogen fuel cell technology for use in electric powered trucks is coming to the fore and has greater economic potential especially when considering larger fleets of electric powered trucks operating on the same site.”
Linde’s David Bowen agrees that hydrogen in fuel cells and used directly in the engine is the most obvious new fuel/technology at the moment. However, he says: “We believe that diesel, LPG and batteries will remain the dominant fuel for the next decade or so because the cost of rolling out the new technologies will remain too high for the products to be widely used.”
Jungheinrich’s Bill Goodwin also sees little prospect of a rapid move to hydrogen. “It is widely accepted that hydrogen will only become truly attractive as a fuel once it can be produced in such
a way that causes zero, or minimal, greenhouse gas emissions and, of course, at a cheaper price than traditional fuels. That scenario remains some years in the future,” says Goodwin.
A lot of work has been going into battery technology. Exide has just launched a range of monobloc batteries featuring spiral wound AGM technologies. The drysafe RECUP (short for recuperation) batteries require no maintenance as the electrolyte is suspended in an absorbed glass mat. Exide says the batteries offer superior high power performance and are suited for electric pallet trucks and automated guided vehicles.
Work on lithium-ion battery technology is also underway. Earlier this year, a consortium led by Dundee-based Axeon was awarded almost £1m of government funding to develop new battery
chemistries that will deliver higher energy densities. Axeon reckons that the performance of a lithium-ion battery will give three to four times the performance of lead-acid. Nissan is developing
lithium-ion technology. “We expect the cost will rapidly go down when the mass application in the Nissan Leaf and also some of the Renault cars takes place,” says René Eenhoorn.
Therefore we expect to introduce the Li-ION battery powered truck after the introduction in the car division. In the current economic situation the viability is difficult. But this
will rapidly change in the years to come.”
Jungheinrich earlier this year started a field test for an electric counterbalanced truck with a lithium-ion battery. The test involves an EFG 216k truck with a lithium-ion battery running around the clock at a German motor manufacturer.