Are lead acid batteries still a good fit when it comes to forklifts used in material handling operations?
By Sheryl S. Jackson—
The lead acid battery has been the mainstay for reliable electrical storage for over 116 years, with more than 65 percent of all forklifts in the U.S. relying on lead batteries, but do they still fit a material handling operation’s need for increased efficiency, improved productivity and focus on corporate responsibility for the environment?
From an efficiency and productivity perspective, advances in lead battery technology have improved efficiency and reduced costs for warehouse owners, says Brad Persons, product marketing manager for Motive Power at MHI member Exide Technologies. “It is important to remember that you are not buying a battery, you are buying an energy system, so you must consider chargers as well as batteries when making a purchase decision.”
While use of a conventional lead battery might require three batteries for one vehicle—one on the floor, one charging and one cooling—higher density batteries and faster chargers that support opportunity charging while the operator is at lunch, on break or changing shifts can reduce the number of batteries for each vehicle to two, Persons explains. “Not only do you reduce the number of batteries needed to produce the same capacity, but in a larger warehouse you can decrease the size of the battery room to free space for other warehouse operations.”
From a safety and sustainability point of view, lead batteries are also a good choice—even though most people are surprised at that fact, says Mark Thorsby, former executive vice president of the Battery Council. “Lead is the most regulated metal in the world, which along with lead batteries’ long history of safe use in a variety of industries, means that employees and the environment are protected,” he says.
Lead batteries are also highly recyclable, says Thorsby. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that lead batteries have a 99 percent recycling rate, which makes them the most recycled consumer product in the U.S., and every new lead battery is comprised of more than 80 percent of recycled lead battery material on average.
“Lead degrades slowly in the recycling process, so it can easily be re-used, and the plastic casing is also recycled,” explains Thorsby. “Even the electrolyte or acid in a lead battery can be recycled.”