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Advantages & Disadvantages of Lithium Batteries For Electric Forklift Applications

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Lithium forklift batteries are becoming more prevalent within the material handling industry. Lithium batteries can provide a better total cost of ownership (TCO) compared to their lead-acid battery counterparts. Although the upfront costs of lithium forklift batteries are considerably higher than lead acid batteries, lithium batteries provide a 2-3 times longer lifespan and many other improvements. Are lithium batteries right for your facility? Below we compare the advantages and disadvantages of lithium batteries within motive power forklift applications.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Lithium Batteries

Benefits of lithium batteries for electric forklift applications:

Cost Savings & Lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO):

Lithium forklift batteries last 2-3 times longer than lead-acid batteries, therefore cost savings end up being substantial over the much longer life span of the battery. The initial cost of lead-acid forklift batteries is less expensive than the upfront costs of lithium alternatives. But when you factor in the hours of maintenance, impact on productivity and overall battery lifespan, lithium-ion batteries provide a far lower total cost of ownership. Larger forklift fleets powered by li-ion batteries will see a ROI much quicker, while operations running single shifts or with a smaller fleet are unlikely to see the cost benefits of lithium batteries.

Longer Run Time:

Lithium batteries offer a much longer run time compared to lead-acid batteries with no decline in performance as the battery discharges. Multi-shift applications and 24/7 material handling operations can benefit from the longer run times of li-ion batteries because they replace the need for cumbersome battery changeouts which reduce productivity. Lithium batteries also are appealing for facilities looking to convert their Internal Combustion forklifts into an electric fleet. Like IC forklifts, fleets powered by lithium batteries can support heavy-duty applications, but without the need for expensive ventilation systems, refueling costs, or labor-intensive maintenance.

Longer Lifespan:

Lithium-Ion Batteries last significantly longer than lead-acid batteries. Lithium Forklift batteries typically have a service life in excess of 3000 cycles. On the other hand, lead-acid batteries can have their lifespan impacted by improper maintenance and usage, which can lower the lifespan of the battery below 1500 cycles.

Longer Warranties:

Lithium batteries are maintenance free and are covered by longer warranties compared to lead-acid batteries. Alpine’s PowerMAX Lithium batteries come with a 10-Year warranty. Lead-acid batteries must be maintained in accordance battery manufacturer’s specifications to remain in compliance with their warranty.

Zero Maintenance:

Lithium batteries do not require battery watering, equalization, cool-down time, or acid adjustments; therefore, lithium batteries are nearly maintenance free. Lithium batteries maintenance-free technology will eliminate the need to have personnel dedicated to maintaining your batteries, and thus reduce labor costs.

Faster & More Efficient Charging:

Lithium batteries require less power to charge to completion and also don’t have to be charged as frequently, thereby reducing energy use and cost. Recharge efficiency of 98%+ drives electrical savings and reduces damaging effects of heating batteries.

No Battery Changeouts:

Lithium forklift batteries are more energy efficient and eliminate the need for battery changes. These batteries are designed for opportunity charging and have a high cycle life, therefore battery swapping is not needed.

Performance In Cold Storage:

Lithium batteries thrive in operations where forklifts need to be used in cold environments. Lithium forklift batteries can maintain their capacity in cold temperatures when utilizing internal heat technology and can be fast-charged. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated grocery shopping; therefore, lithium batteries are becoming an integral part in cold storage applications to fill the demand.

Disadvantages of lithium batteries for electric forklift applications:

High Upfront Costs:

Lithium-ion Batteries cost 3x more than their lead-acid counterparts on average. Although costs are higher upfront, Lithium forklift batteries longer lifespan gives them a lower total cost of ownership than lead-acid batteries.

Need for Increased Monitoring:

Lithium batteries require a Battery Management System (BMS). Lithium batteries can become damaged if they aren’t properly monitored.  This added complexity of lithium batteries can create more potential issues that can damage the battery. Although this can be perceived as a negative, battery management systems allow for personnel to accurately measure state-of-charge current, voltage measurements, and the battery’s state of health to proactively avoid battery abuse.

Costly Recycling:

Lithium batteries have no commodity value and are harder to recycle when compared to traditional lead-acid batteries. 99% of lead-acid batteries are recycled and have value at their end of life, while lithium batteries can have costs associated with recycling.

Battery Weight & Counterbalance:

Lithium batteries weigh less than lead-acid batteries; therefore, additional counter weight may need to be added to compensate for the loss in weight. A ballast is generally included within the li-ion battery case to meet its required battery weight specification.

Are Lithium Forklift Batteries Right for Your Facility?

It is important to do an assessment of your facility’s needs when determining if lithium batteries would be a benefit for your electric forklift fleet. An Alpine Motive Power Specialist can review your operational needs to provide you with the best possible motive power solution for your application. Alpine Power Systems is the leader in providing lithium motive power solutions, with over 5 years of experience in testing, servicing, monitoring, and deploying lithium forklift batteries to customers in many industries. Alpine supplies lithium offerings to a broad range of customers including distribution centers, warehousing, cold storage, online retailers, and government customers. Alpine has experience with different lithium chemistries including lithium nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC), lithium iron phosphate (LFP) and more. Contact our knowledgeable sales team today by calling 877-993-8855 or emailing us at connect@alpinepowersystems.com.

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