If you use batteries or forklifts, you will find this week's special in-depth report in BSLBATT Lithium News well worth reading.
The Electric Forklift Industry here in Global continues to grow and thrive, with technological advancements with both Electric Forklift Manufacturing and the ability to supply various Battery Technologies with Fast Charge and Opportunity Charging capabilities by design for all Battery types, to cater for any and all Forklift applications.
Melissa Barnett looks at how recent events have influenced the logistics sector, what that means when choosing an energy solution, and what impact the pandemic has had on the development of current solutions.
While the world came to a stand-still last year, the logistics and materials handling sectors were busier than ever. As a result, logistics customers are seeking even more efficient ways to get the maximum from the resources they already have. "This strategy has become more challenging to deploy as demand for vital resources intensified during the global pandemic, even as e-commerce soared," says Harold Vanasse, senior director of motive power marketing America at EnerSys.
Optimal efficiency is always at the forefront of any commercial decision. The focus for an end-user when choosing equipment, accessories or service support in materials handling is to calculate the total cost of ownership (TCO) across each solution, based on a company's operational needs.
There are four main aspects that impact the TCO: performance, energy use, maintenance and labour; more recently, users have also added safety and environmental obligations. Dean Portney, vice-president of sales and marketing at Hawker, believes end-users are looking for a holistic solution which will guide them in maximising run-time, minimise maintenance time and ensure seamless implementation.
Micha Denys, export sales manager for Battery Supplies, says that end-users have a very wide range of energy solutions available and this has benefits for them. "Each different technology will meet the specific demand as to how the equipment is used, the organisation in the warehouse, the preference of the operator, the environment and the temperature conditions in which the equipment is operating."
With such an extensive range of choices available, customers want to know if they are still using the right type of energy for their industrial truck fleet. Markus Weinberger, international product manager, energy solutions for Linde Material Handling, recommends an initial survey on-site to check existing energy sources. Selection criteria for future options should include the size of the truck fleet, the shift model in use, the possibility to have short breaks during operation for opportunity re-charging or re-fuelling, the intensity of use, the average utilisation of the trucks per year, indoor/outdoor operation, or required grid power.
The size of an operation and the level of energy output required often dictates a company's choice of energy source. Cost, infrastructure requirements and environmental responsibility are also part of the decision making.
Gas and diesel are still in use, although declining in popularity; electric forklift sales continue to rise with lead acid or lithium batteries powering them, and while hydrogen is an option for companies with large fleets in continuous use and the money to spend on the necessary expensive infrastructure, it has not yet proved a viable option for smaller operations.
The need for social distancing in workplaces and low contact servicing during COVID-19 has meant an increase in automation and remote diagnostic technology. "Accordingly, end-users are looking for power solutions that require as little maintenance as possible. They also want faster, more flexible charging capabilities, as well as hands-off tools to assess battery condition and performance," says Vanasse. There are a range of remote battery monitoring tools available on the market. The EnerSys Wi-Q battery monitoring device attaches directly to the battery cables communicating with remote sensors on the battery to capture and continuously share vital battery operating data via Bluetooth to other Enersys battery monitoring solutions.
John Lawnton, spokesman for Carney Battery Handling, agrees that COVID-19 has had an impact on workplaces and increased pressure to deliver. "Warehouse space is in high demand as e-commerce has spiralled due to the pandemic. End-users want to automate processes and look for better use of space. Carney Battery Handling has, in addition to automating battery charging, developed a multi-level charging rack to free up warehouse floor space," says Lawnton.
Fleet efficiency for end-users running double or triple shifts and ease of charging during those shifts are compelling reasons for end-users to turn to lithium batteries as their power source of choice, says Craig Kenchington, managing director of Triathlon Battery Solutions, a company that sells both lead acid and lithium-ion batteries. While many smaller fleets and operations with the inability to change their charging infrastructure continue to use lead acid power technology, Kenchington says, "there are very good reasons to specify a lift truck fleet with lithium-ion batteries for busy operations". "These include productivity gains from longer runtimes between charging, no battery swaps or watering required, no charging room, faster charging and the ability to conduct opportunity charging. Lithium-ion batteries also have a considerably longer usable life compared to lead acid batteries and this can generate cost savings by extending the service life of a lift truck fleet by up to ten years. In practice, this means you will only need one lithium-ion battery compared to a total of four lead acid batteries."
David Cooper, CEO of CEIL Power Systems, explains that lithium battery technology is now clearly being viewed as a reliable forklift battery option. Most forklift manufacturers are working towards the ability of their supplied electric forklifts to be operational for both lead acid or lithium battery options. "It is relatively easy to retrofit lithium batteries into any existing lead acid battery powered forklift of any type or brand, but extra measures are needed when retrofitting the batteries to display the relative state of charge and discharged battery communication requirements," he explains.
Efficiency is key in any operation, and Linde's Weinberger says that project complexity is rising. To meet the growing needs of customers to rationalise their energy solutions, Linde has developed an energy calculator to allow for comprehensive comparisons between different drive technologies. "We expect this trend to continue in the future, especially when it comes to the use of lithium-ion and fuel cell technologies," says Weinberger.
Lithium batteries can be built as a unit or in modules. A battery built in one unit is exposed to higher downtime risks as failure in one component can shut down the entire system. Modularised units like BSL Battery's Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery (LiFePo4) can decrease the risk of complete unit failure. Hugo Chen, chief technology officer for BSL Battery, explains that many customers have specific requirements, so in order to ensure product stability, reliability and versatility, BSL has developed a functional modular component design that disassembles a non-standard product into standard design modules based on functionality. The advantage, says Chen, is that the free combination of standardised products can meet the needs of different customers.
Denys says that Battery Supplies has added an LiFePo4 battery to its range. "This technology is currently a very hot topic in industrial applications. It allows for fast-charging and intermediate charging but also provides the longest possible lifetime of the battery. Although the initial purchasing cost is considerably higher, when taking into account the much longer lifetime of the battery, the customer can easily determine that an LiFePo4 battery is the cheapest, maintenance-free battery solution for forklifts," he adds.
The large forklift market has until recently been unable to access lithium battery technology. Stromcore's head of production innovation, Tamas Pataky, explains: "The larger forklift application market has been dominated by internal combustion engines as they are able to refuel quickly and keep up with the demands of their operations. Stromcore lithium batteries use a premium nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) chemistry which is capable of charging at far higher rates than competing lithium ferrous phosphate (LFP) technologies. Coupled with Stromcore's Turbo Charging technology, batteries can be charged at a continuous 600 A rate, achieving a full charge in under an hour." Pataky adds that by leveraging opportunity charging, Stromcore lithium NMC batteries have the capability to work around the clock in a high-intensity environment with heavy loads.
To date, the overwhelmingly positive argument for continuing with lead acid technology is because it is so much more recyclable than lithium-ion batteries. Christopher French, spokesman for PowerBatt USA, says that currently lead acid batteries are recycled at a rate of nearly 99%; however, at the same time, the smelting process to produce lead for use in lead acid batteries is highly toxic. PowerBatt believes that reducing the number of lead acid batteries needing to be manufactured and recycled is a far better option. PowerBatt's reconditioning technology enables lead acid batteries to be completely desulfated without damage to the lead plates and reconditioned, whilst eliminating the risk of short circuiting. By addressing the three main issues that kill lead acid batteries - sulfation, hard brittle lead plates and short circuits, French says PowerBatt has developed an organic and non-toxic solution which reduces the need to manufacture lead acid batteries.
Joshua King, national account manager for FastCharge Australia, says that lithium battery technology's greatest strengths also created its greatest drawbacks. Barriers to recycling were once three-fold, says King: "Direct recycling methods took longer and were more expensive, there were fewer spent batteries around, and materials used to be cheaper. Then increased production of electric vehicles between 2016 and 2018 tripled lithium's price and quadrupled the cost of cobalt. Batteries became abundant and recycling methods began improving - fast."
King says recycling is getting cheaper and quicker and repurposing is becoming more widespread and that is making lithium batteries more accessible across the materials handling industry. He gives an example: "Forklifts need good current density, but energy storage applications demand far less and cells with 80% capacity can be reused in a variety of places. For example, a Chinese telecom tower operator recently ditched lead acid batteries for second-life lithium batteries in 98% of its installations. The logic behind the move was that at the time of the decision, second-life lithium-ion batteries cost less than brand-new lead acid versions at USD100 per kWh."
Some estimates say that by 2025, second-life batteries could be 30% to 70% cheaper than new ones, and because many second-life batteries get certified for up to a decade of use in energy storage applications, King believes it is even more incentive to recover the valuable components within old lithium batteries, especially when you consider they can have a service life of a couple of decades before the need for recycling ever arises.
What the materials handling industry is currently experiencing is a maturing of the energy sources market. As Adrian Clayton from FastCharge Africa observes: "New technologies rarely arrive on the scene with all the infrastructure they need. It takes time for satellite industries to spring up."
As the world increases its demand for lithium, the lithium battery supply chain has been gaining more attention. Due to the finite supply of critical elements such as lithium and cobalt and the risk to supply exacerbated by the pandemic, both government and private enterprises have been providing capital resources to ensure ample supply of essential minerals. EcoVadis is a worldwide provider of business sustainability ratings. It monitors the environmental, labour and human rights, ethics and sustainable procurement aspects of industry supply chains, including the supply of lithium and other minerals. Linde Material Handling was granted Gold Status in 2020.
There are a number of energy sources with potential for the materials handling industry still in development that the next decade will see maturing. It is an exciting area of research and development and one worth keeping an eye on.