As material handling companies power up to meet the needs of customers, equipment like batteries and chargers are often a top calculation. Some in the lithium-ion battery industry say knowledge of the technology has grown rapidly.
“We’ve gotten to an inflection point where understanding and awareness of lithium-ion batteries is high enough that the discussion is no longer about value proposition. Generally, people understand the value,” said Robin Schneider, director of marketing at Green Cubes Technology.
The company “develops and manufactures a complete portfolio of modern electrification power solutions, including the market-leading Lithium SAFEFlexbattery,” according to the company website. Green Cubes’ solutions “allow industrial customers to transition away from fossil fuels and legacy power sources such as lead-acid and internal combustion engines,” the site said.
Previously, lithium ion was used more in niche, early adopter applications like cold storage facilities where a Li-ion powered battery would have strong capabilities of providing power while staying in the freezer the entire time, Schneider said. Now with the learning curve in place, Schneider said conversations with customers are often about standardization, lead times and quality metrics.
“It’s the beginning of a mature phase of technology and adoption. Orders are bigger. People are switching entire fleets rather than small trials,” she said. Schneider cited a recent white paper by CALSTART showing lithium-ion overtaking lead acid in new vehicle sales and forklift sales in 2026. “It shows the adoption of lithium-ion year-over-year growth at about 30 percent,” Schneider said.
Mining for lithium
Asked about the practices of mining for lithium ion, Schneider said the subject does come up frequently as a concern and added that there will be supply chain constraints as the industry grows. “Eventually, supply will be developed to meet the demand. There will be correction and balance over time,” Schneider said.
There is a key distinction between the more well-established chemistry of nickel magnesium (NMC) cobalt and the lithium-ion phosphate (LFP) chemistry used in lift truck batteries, according to Schneider. The NMC combination is used in laptops, cell phones and the majority of electric vehicles, she said.
Lithium is fairly abundant, however the NMC mining process is “very environmentally unfriendly,” said Schneider, who said most of the supply mines are based in Africa and are owned by China. “They’re also toxic,” she added.
The LFP combination uses iron, which Schneider said is “readily abundant in most of the world.” “There’s a drive for the entire battery industry to go forward with the LFP chemistry,” she said, noting Green Cubes batteries employ this chemistry.
“LFP has a couple of advantages; its life cycle is inherently much longer than NMC. It is safer in the sense that if you have did have a rare thermal event with LFP the worst the peak temperature is much lower,” Schneider said. The disadvantage of LFP is energy density, according to Schneider. “It takes up more space than NMC, but that is not a big issue in an industrial truck,” she said.
In addition to batteries, Green Cubes has developed chargers, which Schneider said includes “the highest efficiency and smallest charger” in the market. She said a lot of customers are interested in a seamless system of batteries and chargers.
In the near future, the company is monitoring the work of the California Air Resources Board, an organization that oversees the state’s efforts for air pollution control, including proposals of electrification of internal combustion engines, according to Schneider.
The state legislature is currently in the comment period of legislation that may phase out Class 4 and Class 5 lift trucks between 2026 and 2035, according to Schneider. “It’s yet to be seen exactly how that is going to phase out,” she said.
Exploring power options
Some in the industry are seeing interest in diverse power solutions. At EnerSys there are three battery technologies available to address all needs and budgets, according to the company website.
The business has developed modeling software that “eliminates guesswork and can use application data for actionable intelligence to identify the ideal battery and charger combination based on a customer’s specific operations and goals,” the site said.
EnerSys offers Ironclad® traditional flooded lead acid batteries as well as “virtually maintenance-free NexSys® PURE Thin Plate Pure Lead (TPPL) and NexSys® iON Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, according to the business website. In addition, the company offers a range of charger technologies including a new wireless option for AGVs, the site said.
Harold Vanasse, Senior Director of Marketing, Motive Power Global, for the company, said like any newer technology, there is an adoption curve for lithium ion. “Flooded lead acid has been around for a long time,” he said, noting that for many EnerSys customers, lead acid technology is still preferred. But interest in maintenance free technology is strong and varies, so he said the consultations EnerSys can provide are key. Vanasse said the company’s experts help size up what technology will work for a client, what the budget considerations are and more.
Chris Behan, Senior Marketing Manager, Motive Power Americas, for EnerSys, said the company will gather equipment energy usage data as well as shift and break patterns for charging to paint a complete picture.
All of that information is input into the EnerSys simulation software, to help customers make fully informed decisions of power needs, according to Behan. The company’s offering of a one-stop shop for battery and charger needs is also valued by its customers, according to Vanasse.
“We design and make our own chargers as well. It’s very much a closed-loop system. Everything is designed to work optimally together,” he said.
Vanasse said the shortage of labor, cost of labor and automation remain top considerations for EnerSys partners. Behan said an interesting trend has also been the number of customers wanting to move away from the costs and time associated with battery maintenance.
For some, thin plate pure lead is a good option if they don’t require the full power of the Li-ion option, Behan said. “We try to right-size the power system for the application,” he said, noting some operations, like a 24-7 facility, can benefit from the advantages of lithium ion batteries that are designed to recharge fast during break periods.
“Another trend you see is automation,” said Vanasse, who said maintenance free TPPL and lithium-ion batteries often match up well with such efforts as businesses seek options to fill labor needs.
Sustainability is another top-of-mind subject for EnerSys partners, according to Vanasse.
Behan agreed, noting that for those looking for water savings, considering different battery options may help hit those goals. “Our NexSys solutions never have to be watered,” he said.
Vanasse said he envisions the lithium-ion technology will continue to evolve over the coming years, with the cells becoming more energy dense. “We’re going to see an evolution in those chemistries,” he said.
EnerSys recently debuted its wireless charging options, which both Vanasse and Behan said are of interest to companies looking to drive up efficiencies with automated equipment.
In the near future, the EnerSys sales team are looking forward to continuing to apply customer data to hone down what is best for each operation. And Vanasse said the company will likely release the next generation of that software in a year or so. “We’re still continue to evolve thin plate pure lead and lithium-ion products,” he said, encouraging material handling companies to look through their various power options and use data to help make the best choice.
“Have that conversation with us,” he said. “There is no one-size-fits all solution and we don’t want customers to guess at what they need. The costs of a bad decision are very high.”
About the Author:
Eileen Mozinski Schmidt is a freelance writer and journalist based in the Greater Milwaukee area. She has written for print and online publications for the past 13 years. Email Networkeditorial@MHNetwork.com or visit eileenmozinskischmidt.wordpress.com to contact Eileen. If your company would like to be featured, email Networkeditorial@MHNetwork.com