3 Hidden Costs of Batteries for Forklifts

Common costs facility managers overlook when purchasing material handling equipment

The difference between an inefficient work environment and a smooth-running operation can boil down to choosing the right forklift. And a central element of selecting the right material handling equipment involves fuel choice.

Many material handling professionals — 70 percent of fleet managers operating forklifts in the 5,000- 10,000 lbs. capacity range and 51 percent of fleet managers operating forklifts in the 10,000 lbs. and up capacities — are choosing propane. Propane forklift users trust the equipment for its versatility, increased productivity, and low emissions profile, to name a few.

Other facilities prefer electric equipment to handle their material handling needs, and while electric forklifts can offer advantages for their operations there are a few costs considerations that oftentimes get overlooked.

Here are three cost categories for facility managers to take into consideration when purchasing their next forklift to prevent buyer’s remorse:


1. Total cost of ownership
According to a survey from the Propane Education & Research Council, fleet managers rated initial capital cost as one of the top five important factors when purchasing a forklift. Electric forklifts, compared with propane-powered forklifts, have a higher capital cost. In fact, the capital cost of an electric forklift can be 30 percent higher than the purchase price of a propane-powered forklift when factoring in the purchase of required batteries and recharging equipment.

Plus, electric forklifts are costly when you consider the utility costs of keeping them charged. Battery life and power output for electric forklifts also diminish over time and lead to future costs that can go overlooked, including additional expensive batteries. Charging electric forklift batteries when the remaining charge is too high or too low can reduce the lifespan of the battery by half.

With propane, beyond the initial equipment purchase and the cost of fuel, facilities are only responsible for maintenance and storing the cylinders, which they lease from their propane supplier. Facility managers may also be able to lock in a fuel price with their local propane supplier, providing even more peace of mind.

Propane forklifts’ longer lifespan also leads to cost savings. The life expectancy of a propane cylinder is three times longer than the life expectancy of an electric forklift battery and extends beyond the typical lifespan of a forklift. Plus, propane-powered forklifts can be refilled at any time without affecting the lifespan of the cylinder.

Propane beats out electric in terms of productivity costs, too. Electric forklifts can require hours of recharging and if an employee forgets to plug the equipment in overnight, it means accelerated loss of power throughout the workday and a halt in productivity. Not to mention, heavy loads drain the battery more quickly resulting in the need for frequent recharging and adherence to strict battery management.

Propane forklifts, on the other hand, maintain 100 percent power throughout operation, pushing heavy loads at full capacity more consistently than their electric counterparts. Plus, one propane cylinder typically lasts an entire eight-hour shift, giving a facility uninterrupted operational capability.

This is great news for facilities that run operations 24/7, as propane can enable them to work around the clock.

2. Environmental costs
It’s important to consider the environmental costs of a facility’s equipment, too. One of the most common misconceptions that facility managers make is choosing electric forklifts for the purpose of operating zero emission material handling equipment.

Electric forklifts may produce zero emissions during normal operation, but their emissions profile is less impressive when you take the total site-to-source emissions into account. Site-to-source emissions include those produced in the manufacturing and transportation of any energy source, including batteries for electric equipment. Electric forklifts produce 76 percent more sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions, compared with propane equipment. It’s also important to consider how electricity is produced. In many parts of the country, electricity production still comes from coal fired power plants.

When you factor the emissions profile of a coal fired power plant with the transmission and distribution losses of electric, the full scale of environmental impact is quite staggering.

The electric battery disposal process isn’t so squeaky clean either. When the battery goes dead, facility managers can’t simply dispose of them without negatively impacting the environment. Because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers them a hazardous material, they have specific handling and disposal regulations attached. In many cases, proper disposal or reconditioning of the battery can be a costly proposition.

3. Initial installation costs
Facility managers who make the move to electric oftentimes forget about the installation requirements that come with electric equipment — which can have a significant impact both financially and structurally.

Electric forklifts often require the costly installation of battery charging stations, which must be located in a designated area of the facility. It’s important to note that charging stations may cause issues in some facilities and require costly service upgrades to accommodate the new power requirements. With propane forklifts, however, infrastructure requirements are minimal. Refueling infrastructure requires only storage space for the propane cylinders, freeing up valuable warehouse square footage that would otherwise be occupied by battery stations.

By choosing the right forklift, and fuel, for their operations, facility managers can achieve higher levels of productivity, lower cost of ownership, decreased downtime, and reduced emissions. In other words, purchasing the right forklift can provide a substantial ROI for a business. Facility managers who are well-versed in how choosing the right fuel can impact their equipment and overall operations will set themselves up for success — and ultimately, maximize their investment.

To find out more visit Propane.com/Forklifts.
Written by Jeremy Wishart. He is director of off-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at jeremy.wishart@propane.com.

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