Evolving trends in forklift truck technology are paving the way for an eco-friendly future for our favourite piece of machinery. Establishing a cost-effective and environmentally friendly balance can be difficult, but innovations are helping companies adopt new practices to save money, optimise productivity and increase eco-friendly credentials.
Hydrogen fuel cells
The key development is the hydrogen fuel cell. Although not a new technology, the cell is starting to be recognised as a viable alternative. The cell is an energy conversion device, capturing and utilising the power of hydrogen. Electricity is then produced from oxygen and hydrogen. The adoption of fuel cell technologies to improve materials handling is on the rise.
Most recently, Amazon have taken the bold decision to spend $70 million upgrading battery powered vehicles to hydrogen, as well as acquiring up to 23% of Plug Power, a hydrogen fuel cell maker. 11 Amazon warehouses will receive the new vehicles, accompanied by the technology needed to produce enough hydrogen fuel to power its forklifts.
They are not the only ones investing in the technology, with the US military powering Chevy pickups with hydrogen fuel cells. The vehicles could soon be deployed onto US bases and battlefields.
There are many reasons fuel cell technology hasn’t taken off in a huge way, one of them being cost. The fuel itself is costly, as is the infrastructure to maintain machines running from it. Hydrogen is also difficult to both transport and store, with its transportation creating additional emissions.
However, the benefits certainly go a long way to outweighing any negatives. Hydrogen fuel cells emit zero harmful emissions, creating only water vapour and heat as by-products. Greenhouse gas emissions when using hydrogen fuel cells is typically 33% less compared to the use of lead-acid batteries. The benefits to the health and well-being of employees is also an important factor.
Forklifts powered by hydrogen don’t need to stop work to have batteries charged, just a quick refuel by their operator. Anything that can improve productivity is certainly worth considering. There are no lead-acid batteries to dispose of, and fuel cells last ten years, reducing your carbon footprint and lifecycle cost.
The benefits of electric forklifts
Then there are the benefits of the electric forklifts themselves. With efficient engines, low noise levels and zero emissions, they benefit both the working environment and the range of applications. For example, the lack of pollutants makes an electric forklift perfect in retail and food applications. A reduced chassis size in some models compared to engine forklifts makes them suitable for small environments, and lower centres of gravity improve stability. Electric forklifts afford much wider flexibility than engine driven counterparts.
Couple these with the benefits of historically low natural gas prices and the possibility of space saving with on-site hydrogen generation and anyone can see that there are more positives than negatives.
As businesses are expected to increase productivity, expand operations and reduce emissions, the adoption of hydrogen fuel cell technology and electric forks should be the next big thing in manufacturing, operations and logistics.