Contributed Commentary By Anthony Cooper, General Manager of the Motive Division at Green Cubes Technology
The choice for motive energy battery solutions usually narrows down to two: lead-acid or lithium-ion. Both provide the energy that makes motive power equipment, such as forklifts and pallet jacks, operate. However, the similarities don’t go much further.
So, before switching to new, improved energy sources, companies should have a complete understanding of the latest technology advancements and diversification of the battery landscape. This includes diving deeper into differences in recyclability, power density and the cost versus the gain of both types of batteries.
Addressing Battery Recyclability Misconceptions
Recyclability misconceptions are prevalent. For instance, lead-acid battery providers claim their products are 99% recyclable, but they often leave out the harmful effects of the “recycling” process. Smelting is used to reclaim the lead in lead-acid batteries, but evidence indicates this process harms water, soil, wildlife and humans. Additionally, smelting produces silicon dioxide and slag—a mixture of toxic metal oxides—which has caused many smelting factories to be moved out of the United States.
Lithium-ion batteries are unique in many regards. For starters, they have a significantly longer cycle life than lead-acid batteries. At the end of their first life, they can be recovered, reused and eventually recycled—being repurposed into smaller power storage grids such as solar power and grid storage. At the end of the second life, the cells are refilled and sent back to the manufacturer to build new batteries.
Density Contributes To Battery Efficiency
Because of energy and power density improvements over the past decade, traditional lead-acid batteries are less ergonomic than their lithium-ion counterparts. Lithium-ion batteries have more energy and power density in a smaller mass and technology and chemistry improvements are expected to continue.
In the motive industry, size, weight, energy and power density requirements are constantly changing. For instance, many forklifts and other equipment are being designed to have the counterbalance in the vehicle, so the extra weight usually added to a lithium-ion battery will become unnecessary. Chances are, these changes could mean a lower cost per battery and more room for energy storage, which could lead to a longer lifecycle.
Contemplating Overall Cost
The upfront cost of a lithium-ion battery can be two to three times more expensive than a lead-acid battery. However, when you factor in life cycle, energy efficiency, maintenance, quantity and sustainability, a lithium-ion battery has a greater return on investment (ROI). The life cycle of a lead-acid battery diminishes by deep cycling, operating temperatures, self-discharge and fast charging – and just one of these factors can reduce the annual lifespan of the battery by 40%. Lithium-ion batteries perform better with opportunity and fast charging and outperform their lead-acid counterparts in both hot and cold temperatures.
Other cost contributors include:
- The quantity of batteries needed for a fleet. Motive equipment usually requires two to three lead-acid batteries but one lithium-ion.
- Average lifespan. Lead-acid batteries typically last three to four years, whereas lithium-ion batteries last five years, minimum and usually longer. Therefore, a 20-year-old piece of equipment would go through 15-20 lead-acid batteries versus four lithium-ion batteries.
- Lead-acid battery-swapping. Expensive equipment must be used for lead-acid battery-swapping for high-use areas, which adds to down time and safety concerns surrounding heavy battery systems. Since lithium-ion batteries don’t need to be swapped, time and square footage is saved.
- Extensive maintenance. To work at full capacity and within warranty, lead-acid batteries require regular maintenance that includes watering, equalizing, changing, charging and cleaning. The lithium-ion battery is maintenance-free and requires zero upkeep of any kind, increasing productivity.
Weigh All Factors
To stay ahead of the game, companies should be aware of new and evolving technology to make production and processes as advantageous and safe as possible. Ultimately, if you’re looking to make a change in your forklifts, powered pallet jacks, stackers, or other motive machinery, then research the latest in battery technology. Remember to consider many variables that include recyclability, energy efficiency, power density and cost before deciding what’s best for your fleet.
Anthony Cooper is the General Manager of the Motive Division at Green Cubes Technology. With nearly 15 years of experience in the OEM industry, he heads up a global team of engineers to design and manufacture world class power systems focused around lithium battery technologies.