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How sustainable are lithium-ion forklifts?

Lithium-ion forklift range

Lithium-ion forklifts are not just revolutionising supply chains – they’re also leading the charge in sustainable practices. We sat down with Linde Material Handling Australia’s Allan Spackman and Greg Wood to unearth the environmental benefits – and dispel the myths – around lithium-ion forklifts.

To decide on the right equipment for your warehouse, it’s not just about power and efficiency. In today’s world, sustainability matters. As the interest in lithium-ion forklifts grows, many wonder about their environmental impact.

Lifespan and Recycling: The Lithium Advantage

“A lead-acid battery typically lasts around 1500 cycles,” says Allan Spackman, a warehousing/power solution expert at Linde Material Handling Australia. “With lithium, you’re looking at between 2500 and over 4000 cycles. Essentially, this longer lifespan reduces the recycling frequency. Lithium batteries can be completely recycled. However, when it comes to lead-acid batteries, the quality of lead degrades with every recycling process, leaving behind significant amounts of acid.”

Given the global shortage of lithium recycling facilities, Linde has been proactive.

“The Kion Group, Linde’s parent company, has partnered with one of the largest lithium-ion recyclers globally. This collaboration ensures responsible disposal,” says Allan. Moreover, these batteries can be repurposed for lighter applications, giving them a second life before recycling becomes a need.”

Linde lithium-ion forklift
Linde’s lithium-ion forklift.

Greg Wood expands on the recycling process: “A battery’s lifecycle consists of four main stages: initial assembly and use, refurbishment for secondary use, remanufacturing for alternate applications like stationary batteries, and finally, recycling. Our collaboration with companies aims to recycle up to 95 per cent of the battery mass.

Discussing Linde’s approach compared to competitors, Greg Wood emphasises the commitment to exceeding standards.

“While there are mandates like the EU directive that requires recycling at least 50 per cent of industrial batteries, our vision goes beyond. We’re striving for a 95 per cent recycling rate for each battery,” he says.

Sourcing Materials: Addressing Environmental Concerns

Of course, before a battery reaches the end of its life, it starts with sourcing materials.

Isn’t it true that the materials for lithium-ion batteries are tricky to source sustainably and ethically?

“Yes and no,” says Allan: “Yes, there are concerns, especially about cobalt’s sourcing, which has been associated with exploitation. However, many are transitioning to cobalt-free lithium technologies like lithium ferro phosphate.”

The environmental impact of using lithium-ion batteries is also less detrimental than one might think.

“Whilst the production of lithium-ion batteries may be slightly more energy intensive than production of lead-acid batteries, our internal and certified life cycle test assessments reveal that energy consumption during the use phase is in-fact the largest contributor. As such, the energy efficiency of our trucks is always a top priority. Furthermore, lithium-ion batteries and chargers have an energy efficiency of over 90 per cent. By simply switching to lithium-ion cells, you can reduce your carbon footprint by around 30 per cent.”

Looking Ahead

As the world shifts towards more sustainable operations, understanding the environmental implications of our choices becomes essential. With companies like Linde leading the charge in responsible practices, the future of lithium-ion forklifts is not just efficient but also green.

For more information on Linde Material Handling, click here

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