We're willing to bet your forklifts are powered by lead-acid industrial battery systems. These batteries have come under fire because they have serious shortcomings, but they also have powerful advantages.
The Ugly Truth
Environmentalists hate lead-acid industrial battery systems. The lead is a potentially devastating environmental toxin. A gram of lead could contaminate the local water table, introducing problems from organ failure to brain damage to the local population. The acid, in addition to being a dangerous corrosive that endangers workers, is also damaging to the environment.
Ecological woes aren't the only problem. Lead-acid cells are extremely heavy compared to other battery technologies providing the same power. They cannot be stored without regular maintenance, and even with meticulous care they "wear out" and need to be changed regularly. Battery replacement is an ongoing expense for any forklift fleet.
Does this mean we are about to pack up our business and move on? No. Lead-acid batteries also have a number of advantages.
The Not-Ugly Truth
If we had to pick one factor that drives the popularity of lead-acid industrial battery systems, we'd pick cost without hesitation. Lead-acid batteries use inexpensive materials, are easy to manufacture, and are also the most recycled item in the country, which cuts manufacturing costs even more. Cost is always an important motivator to any business.
However "cheap" is not their only advantage. Although they require a trickle charge during storage, the lose power more slowly than other battery technologies. When called upon they are capable of high rates of discharge. The technology is simple and durable. One big advantage of using old technology is that it's well understood.
Most feel the benefits are greater than the liabilities but there are alternatives for businesses who want them.
The Other Truth
Some fleet managers are replacing traditional acid-soaked lead industrial battery systems with a technology called absorbed glass mat, or AGM. In these batteries, the acid is stored in mats of woven glass fibers. The glass doesn't corrode and this lengthens the battery life. The cells are sealed because they lose almost no water. Why don't more people use them? That goes back to traditional lead-acid batteries' biggest advantage: price. AGM batteries cost at least twice what the older technology does.
The other common alternative is to abandon electric-powered forklifts entirely and go with propane. Although propane has some benefits it has a number of problems: explosive tanks, toxic exhaust and ongoing fuel costs to name a few. For many fleet managers, good old battery power is the preferred choice.
It goes back to the old adage: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Lead-acid industrial battery systems continue to provide the power needed at a reasonable price and that is why this ancient technology is still a vital part of a modern industrial setting.