How greenis your forklift?

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This is being seen in the forklift truck market with a renewed emphasis on electric trucks as well as alternatives to diesel such as LPG. And there is growing interest in fuel cell technology which hold out the promise on a completely clean fuel.

Richard Close, chief executive of Briggs, which distributes Cat trucks in the UK, points out that there is a noticeable switch from internal combustion engines to electrics.

This, he says, leads to the issue of dealing with the batteries which contain both lead and an acid. “You need an environmentally friendly process for regeneration and recycling.”

Close also sees a future for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, although, he says, there could be an issue with the distribution of hydrogen.

Hans Herbert Schultz, managing director of Jungheinrich in the UK, points out that the company is now regularly asked about its environmental policies by customers. A key driver in the development of a new truck is increasing battery and life.

The introduction of AC technology has clearly had an impact in this area and manufacturers are now looking for other ways of boosting performance. This thinking is exemplified in Jungheinrich’s new EKX Kombi Stacker which is fitted with the company’s third generation 3-phase AC motor which offers high throughput efficiency and dynamic performance while offering low energy consumption.

Third generation 3-phase AC drive motors use much less energy than their predecessors, says Jungheinrich. “Additional energy” is reclaimed through regenerative braking and lowering during the operation of the Kombi. This facilitates significantly longer operating times with only one battery charge. The Jungheinrich Kombi stacker may achieve up to two shifts in normal operation. In addition the active energy and battery management system looks ahead and optimises energy flows for the various operations so that energy requirement peaks are avoided.

Clearly battery power has significant environmental benefits compared with diesel engines – there is no atmospheric pollution making them suitable for use within the warehouse. In fact, many truck manufacturers report that electric trucks are starting to make inroads into some traditional IC areas.

CMP Batteries used IMHX to unveil its product rating classification scheme designed to offer the same transparency as the energy rating system adopted by manufacturers of electrical goods such as washing machines.

CMP’s range of batteries and chargers are now rated on two criteria: energy usage and recyclability. Each product is rated between one globe for the least efficient, and seven globes for the most efficient – allowing the customer to make an informed decision. Energy rating is based on labour, carbon dioxide emissions and water consumption. Recyclability rating is based on life expectancy and the percentage of the product that is able to be recycled at the end of its life.

Business director Nigel Darke says: “We have invested a great deal of time and money in developing batteries, chargers and ancillary products that optimise efficiency to deliver cost and environmental benefits to customers. Our new grading scheme will make this totally transparent to customers. Then, at the end of a product’s life, we are ensuring that most components from our batteries and chargers can be recycled.

“Increasingly, customers are interested in their carbon footprint because they need to reduce production costs and because their customers, in turn, are demanding environmentally-sound production solutions. This can actually be a win-win situation but it may involve a change of thinking. For example, the most energy efficient may not be the cheapest product – but when you look at the ‘whole life’ costs, great savings can be made. It is therefore beholden on us to highlight the energy cost savings to all relevant parties. The capital budget and the energy budget may be the responsibility of different individuals, so we need to inform a number of individuals within the same organisation about the savings that can be obtained.”

John Lawton, director of marketing for Enersys Motive Power Europe says: “There’s no doubt that one of the driving forces for the future is the issue of carbon neutrality. All the large companies are talking about it – it’s the buzz phrase. However turning off light bulbs, while it might make everyone feel virtuous, isn’t really going to make a great deal of difference.

Companies must address the “power guzzlers” in their businesses . . . refrigeration, air conditioning and the battery charging room.

Lawton points out that using high frequency charging brings significant benefits. You can charge quicker, smarter and in some cases make up to 30 per cent savings in electrical consumption.

Using energy efficient equipment is a key element to saving money but another challenge for business managers is “power spikes”. Companies can be charged huge premiums if the amount of electricity they demand from the mains supply is beyond their agreed tariff threshold.

Enersys will soon be rolling out a new battery management product which will enable companies to manage the peak power demand of their charging rooms. This will prevent power spikes and therefore reduce excess energy charges. This is certainly going to assist large fleet users of materials handling equipment to reach the carbon neutrality standard that they seek.”

Disposing of batteries is going to get a whole lot harder from September next year when a European directive comes into force.

The directive aims to improve the environmental performance of batteries and accumulators and of the activities of all economic operators involved in the life cycle of batteries and accumulators- producers, distributors and end users and, in particular, those operators directly involved in the treatment and recycling of waste batteries and accumulators.

It will prohibit final disposal of automotive and industrial batteries into landfill and incineration, requiring, therefore, all industrial and automotive batteries to be recycled. Indirectly this means 100 per cent collection rate. Producers of industrial batteries will have to offer free take-back on all batteries from end users.

David Callis, operations manager at Powercell, says major end users should no longer be seeking to buy a mere battery. Instead, they should be looking for an energy package for five years plus. In addition to the battery itself this package should include the most cost effective chargers available, along with watering systems and preventive maintenance. The use of reports to assess how the battery has been used allows the supplier to advise the user on battery use and how to get the best from it, thus improving the battery’s efficiency and extending its life.

Dr Terry Ritter, head of safety, health and environment at Calor, the supplier of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) believes that the directive along with additional health and safety at work measures all add to the case for LPG and could effectively spell the end for electric forklift trucks as we know them.

Calor is a principal player in the materials handling sector, with all the major forklift truck manufacturers offering LPG options in their product ranges. Ritter believes that new regulations that affect businesses throughout the UK could have a direct impact on firms that use forklift trucks powered by electricity and diesel.

Because the batteries must be collected and recycled, Ritter believes that end users may pay the price if they use equipment powered by batteries, such as electric forklift trucks.

“The collection schemes will more than likely be financed by producers, with distributors required to also take back batteries. However, although the collection services will be free to the end user, they should not rule out the possibility that the price of batteries will increase to fund these new collections – a cost that may well be passed on to the end user.

“In addition to disposal costs, the directive also seeks to improve the environmental performance of batteries, with producers being restricted on the materials they can use to make batteries. Again, end users may find themselves paying the price of a change in materials, which all adds to the whole life cost of your truck.”

New directives aside, employers also have a duty of care to their employees, one of which is to ensure good air quality while at work.

Ritter says all employers should be carrying out regular risk assessments as part of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and COSHH – Control of Substances Hazardous to Health – to ensure that their employees’ health is not being put at risk from occupational exposure including from the emissions of equipment such as forklift trucks.

“The Health & Safety at Work Act places a general duty to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees,” says Ritter. “Specifically, COSHH recognises that using chemicals or other hazardous substances at work can put people’s health at risk. The law requires employers to control exposure to hazardous substances to prevent ill health.”

“One way that employers may improve air quality is through the use of LPG forklift trucks that deliver a number of benefits compared to diesel, principally based on reduced emissions.

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