How to Choose the Right Forklift Battery?

Should you choose lithium-ion batteries or lead acid batteries to power your forklifts?

If you are a business owner or manager who depends on forklifts to operate your business, the type of industrial battery you choose will have a major impact on your company’s overall efficiency – and that is true if you have just one lift truck or an entire fleet of forklifts in use. Depending on which type of electric forklift battery a business chooses, a lot of time and money could be saved over the long run.

Forklift Battery Types

After determining which size battery is compatible with your forklift, the next important consideration is using: lithium-ion vs lead acid forklift batteries.

Electric forklifts are generally powered by either of these two main types of batteries:

  • Lead acid
  • Lithium-ion

While there are other power options for forklifts, such as propane or diesel, or gas power, 2/3rds that are put into service each year are electric.

The technology behind each of these industrial batteries differs greatly, and therefore, has a different impact on forklift efficiency.

Lead acid batteries are the old-school standard for powering forklifts. They are bulky, liquid-filled units with a removable top that generates electricity via a chemical reaction of lead plates and sulfuric acid. Its technology goes back to 1859 and involves regularly refilling the units with water (which is also necessary for the electricity-generating chemical processes happening within). Lithium-ion batteries are a newer technology, having been first used in a commercial product in the early 1990s, a Sony camcorder. Lithium-ion batteries have many different chemistries. One of the most popular chemistries for the material handling industry is lithium iron phosphate (LFP). It is more compact and energy dense than lead acid. The cells are sealed shut and require no water maintenance.

Length of a Forklift Battery’s Service Life

Like any business expense, electric forklift batteries are a cost that needs to be dealt with regularly.

Which type of battery a company uses in its forklifts determines how often workers will have to replace the battery. Lead acid and lithium-ion batteries have different lifespans:

Lead acid: 1000 – 1500 cycles

Lithium-ion: 3500 cycles

These are averages and may vary based on how well the batteries are maintained.

A lithium-ion forklift battery needs to be replaced less frequently, which is a major driver for business owners to prefer them to conventional lead acid batteries – which need to be replaced out for new ones more often.

Maintaining Forklift Battery Capacity

Both lithium-ion batteries and their lead acid counterparts should be cared for properly if they are to perform up to their full potential. Their service life will diminish if proper forklift battery maintenance is not carried out as it should be.

In order to maximize service life and overall battery capacity, certain measures should be taken for users of both battery types. However, lead acid batteries require more care and attention compared to lithium-ion.

Lead acid forklift batteries require:

Equalizing (Cell Balancing): Traditional technology like this leads to a frequent state where the acid and water inside become stratified (separated horizontally with the acid more concentrated closer to the bottom). This state forms sulfate crystals towards the bottom of the cells and weakens their ability to hold a charge. Equalizing will break up the sulfate crystals but if the battery has been neglected for too long the crystals will not break.

Temperature Control: Lead acid batteries must be kept within a certain temperature range, or else they will have a shorter working life. On top of that, they also get very hot while charging, which requires them to be charged and stored in a temperature-controlled space.

Fluid Level Management: These types of units must be checked to ensure they have enough water about once every 10 or so charging cycles.

Lithium-ion batteries are much less needy when it comes to forklift battery maintenance, as they equalize automatically, function well in much higher temperatures (making temperature mostly a non-issue), and do not require any fluid level management.

For comparison:

Lead Acid Battery Lithium-ion
Equalizing Every 5-10 charges Happens automatically
Temperature Controlled Requires a temp-controlled space Much higher temperature limit
Fluid Levels Top off water every 10 cycles Sealed units, never needs watering
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