Linde Australia is rolling out new Lithium-ion forklifts to meet growing demand for clean, green solutions that improve safety and efficiency. MHD spoke to Greg Wood, Technical Solutions Manager at Linde Material Handling (Australia) to find out more.
Sales of electric forklifts overtook internal combustion machines some time ago, and the gap is widening. As in the automotive sector, traditional counterbalance forklifts are now being displaced by electrically powered machines, which are generally more energy efficient, cheaper to run, cleaner, safer, and easier to maintain.
Traditionally, battery-powered machines were limited to lighter indoor applications, but advancements in battery technology now see electric forklifts used outdoors and in rough terrains, carrying increasingly heavy and bulky loads.
While lead-acid batteries are still the dominant force, powering around 60 per cent of electric forklifts, demand for lithium-ion powered machines is accelerating fast.
“We can see a very definite move to Li-ion machines,” says Greg Wood, Technical Solutions Manager at Linde Material Handling (Australia).
Since the first Li-ion patent was granted in 1989, the technology has evolved, improved and become more economical, finding its way into fleets around the world.
“We have shipped a plethora of trucks with Li-ion batteries at Linde Australia, and we can only see demand increasing as the options unfold in our product portfolio,” he adds.
Li-ion models are available throughout the Linde range, from the compact three-wheeled E12–E20 EVO series, to the E100-E180 series of heavy trucks capable of lifting loads of up to 18 tonnes to heights of up to 10 metres.
“Across our truck portfolio, we have nearly 100 per cent of our trucks available with Li-ion,” explains Greg.
“We can offer up to three different battery capacities in each truck series – and always at least two charger powers per voltage class. This gives customers a huge variety of different options when deciding on a Li-ion powered truck.”
When considering Li-ion power systems, it’s critical to be aware that just retrofitting a lithium battery to a conventional electric forklift doesn’t provide all of the benefits which Li-ion systems can offer. That’s why Linde equipment offers integrated Li-ion power systems, which are designed as part of the whole operating system using CANBUS technology to ensure that maximum safety, performance, and efficiency potential is met.
Energy efficiency of Li-ion
Even before the current fuel price hikes, battery-electric forklifts were a popular option in warehouses and distribution centres.
However, rising energy costs and inflation are focusing attention on increased energy efficiency, where Li-ion excels.
Li-ion shows significantly higher energy system efficiencies – in test cases, up to 30 per cent higher than for lead-acid, 38 per cent higher than for fuel cells, and a massive 58 per cent higher than for IC trucks.
According to Greg, Li-ion battery systems generally deliver significant savings for companies drawing their electrical energy from the grid.
“In most test cases, with a lead-acid battery with a 50 Hz charger, only 56 per cent of the energy ends up powering the truck,” he adds.
“If the company uses an HF charger for the battery, the system efficiency is much better – up to 73 per cent. The combination of Li-ion batteries and matched chargers can offer the highest system efficiency – at least 85 per cent. With smart use of energy recuperation (regenerative systems), the efficiency values can be even higher.”
Greg notes that this can add up to a 30 per cent energy saving compared to a lead-acid battery with a 50 Hz charger.
Productivity gains through Li-ion
It’s not just energy costs driving the interest in the new battery technologies.
Li-ion batteries improve the productivity of electric forklifts due to their high energy density.
“A Li-ion battery has a higher power delivery because the voltage discharge curve is flatter than lead-acid as the battery charge level drops,” explains Greg.
“When comparing lead-acid and Li-ion batteries with an equal kWh rating, lithium will do more work for you. Their higher power delivery and useable capacity means that a truck will run for longer and perform better over the discharge cycle.”
Not only do the batteries need to be charged less frequently, but thanks to their chemical composition, they’re also much quicker to charge than their lead-acid counterparts. Many of the Linde batteries can achieve a full charge cycle within as little as one hour.
“What’s more, these batteries are also suitable for intermediate charging as often as required, eliminating the need for a battery change/swap,” explains Greg.
“Depending on the intensity of the operation, all that’s needed is a quick recharge during the lunch break and the vehicles are ready to go for several more hours.
“The unique characteristics of Li-ion batteries offer the options of fast charging and opportunity charging, which increases the truck availability and overall flexibility. Even when the operator is out of the forklift, there is no downtime.
“With conventional batteries, it is recommended to only ever start full charging cycles in order to protect the batteries. It’s completely different with Li-ion batteries: even extremely short interim charging of just a few minutes is not only allowed, but actually preferable.
“Their ideal state of charge is about 20 per cent to 80 per cent of the total capacity. The flexibility of the charging process significantly increases the overall vehicle availability.”
Total lifetime cost savings
“Overall, the Li-ion battery, with at least 2500 complete charging cycles, can be charged almost twice as often as a lead-acid battery,” Greg points out.
“Furthermore, Li-ion batteries require no maintenance since no water needs to be topped up, for example. Due to the closed system of cells and modules that are arranged in a row in batteries, the lithium battery also does not release emissions, which is good news from an employee health perspective.
“Due to their chemistry, Li-ion batteries have a significantly longer service life than lead-acid batteries, which offers an improved ROI for customers. The customer benefits also create additional opportunities for savings across the entire service life of the battery.”
Minimising safety risks
The switch to Li-ion also has workplace health and safety benefits. “When we eliminate the need for battery changing, we minimise operator handling of batteries and the need for battery rooms,” says Greg.
“And since the Li-ion cells are virtually maintenance-free, the operators cannot come into contact with dangerous acids.”
While the hydrogen produced by lead-acid batteries can turn into dangerous oxyhydrogen gas, Li-ion batteries have no such risk.
In accidents involving forklifts, enormous forces are exerted due to the weight. To ensure that the Li-ion batteries in the vehicles are protected even in extreme situations, Linde’s bigger batteries (48 V and 90 V) have been subjected to a crash test of the maximum load.
The multi-level safety system in place with Linde Li-ion batteries applies at cell, module and battery level.
In addition, battery management ensures optimum battery usage by constantly monitoring and coordinating vehicle functions, charging processes and the battery system. This prevents damage caused by overpressure, overheating, over-charging or deep discharge.
The KION Group (Linde’s parent company) produces most of its own Li-ion batteries at the KION Battery Systems plant in Karlstein am Main in Germany.
The in-house production means that Linde Performance Plus batteries are designed alongside the machines into which they will ultimately be installed.
“Batteries are manufactured here for an extremely broad range of trucks,” says Greg.
“The configurations for the batteries are consequently also extremely varied, which means greater value is placed on high-quality craftsmanship than on large-scale automated processes. At present, no fewer than 80 employees work in production, and in research and development, at the KION battery plant.
“The distinct benefit of KION’s battery R&D lies in the in-house design, which perfectly aligns the battery with the forklift. State-of-the-art production facilities guarantee quality and provide our customers with high-performance battery solutions tailored to their individual operational needs.”
And as forklifts become more technologically advanced, with onboard energy management systems, performance monitoring and telematics, KION is able to design batteries as smart as the machines they will power.
An eye on sustainability
Environmental criteria are increasingly applied to any major purchase today, and Linde executives stress that their Li-ion batteries and vehicles are highly efficient, state-of-the-art energy systems that protect people and the environment.
“Linde’s Li-ion powered trucks meet all sustainability requirements, with zero-emission operation and the highest system efficiencies for charging,” explains Greg.
“The use of Li-ion powered forklifts and warehouse equipment makes any application significantly more energy efficient, resulting in the same overall output being achieved using less energy.
“Certified life cycle-assessments show that the use phase of trucks is the main driver of pollution, and switching to highly efficient Li-ion technology can significantly reduce your carbon footprint.”
Linde is also conscious of its end-of-life responsibilities, employing various recycling strategies. After their first life, Linde Li-ion batteries can be refurbished and re-used in another truck application. After another truck life, the batteries still have enough remaining capacity to be used for further applications.
The single components can be recycled and re-used in the production of new Li-ion cells through KION’s strategic partner, Li-Cycle, in Magdeburg, Germany. The Group’s objective is to have a total of up to 5000 tonnes of end-of-life battery material professionally and sustainably processed by Li-Cycle by 2030. This is equivalent to around 15,000 large forklift batteries.
Li-ion might not suit all
While Linde offers Li-ion versions of almost its entire product line, it continues to manufacture and sell lead-acid models because the new solution might not be perfect for every customer.
“We offer two options when a customer decides to go for an electric-powered truck: lead-acid and Li-ion,” explains Greg.
“Both have their benefits – for lead-acid, the major one being the lower initial costs. We do not specifically favour one energy system over another. We study each individual application and offer the energy system that best fits the customer’s processes, targets and priorities. When we’re approached about a new forklift, we try to ensure that the machine is fit for purpose.
“A crucial part of that is determining which energy system is the most suitable. This includes determining if the energy option fits the application, if the infrastructure is suitable, what environmental benefits can be achieved and, of course, what cost implications the choice will have.
“Before selecting a solution, together with the customer, we analyse the individual application with regard to energy infrastructure, potential power limits or peaks, usage patterns and processes and, of course, ROI.”
Linde and lithium-ion batteries
A lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery is a type of rechargeable battery characterised by a higher specific energy, higher energy density, higher energy efficiency, longer cycle life, and longer calendar life first introduced in 1991.
Beside their widescale use in portable consumer electronics, laptop computers and mobile phones, Li-ion batteries are now widely used in electric cars and powered equipment.
Linde presented its first electrically driven forklift truck, the E10 – E15, at the 1971 Hanover Fair.
In 2017, the first E14 – E18 ION electric forklifts with lithium-ion technology rolled off the production line at Aschaffenburg.
In late 2021, KION combined with BMZ Holding GmbH to form the KION Battery Systems (KBS) joint venture to produce lithium-ion batteries for industrial trucks.
April 2022 saw the opening of a second production line for lithium-ion batteries in Karlstein am Main, Germany.
For more information on Linde Material Handling Australia, click here.