How Lead-Acid Forklift Batteries Continue to Evolve

With all the digital ink spilled over lithium-ion and hydrogen fuel cells, it can be easy to forget that manufacturers of lead-acid batteries continue to make improvements on the traditional chemistry of electric motive power.

Here are a few of the advancements in lead-acid battery technology that will allow them to compete with newer power sources for electric forklifts:

  1. Integrated Supercapacitors

    - The traditional lead-acid forklift battery supplies plenty of energy, but power-heavy tasks — such as lifting and transporting heavier loads — can drain them faster. That can make it hard to predict the rate of discharge.

    Supercapacitors can store up to 100 times more energy per unit mass than a typical battery, which makes them perfect for supplying short bursts of power. A combination of lead-acid cells and supercapacitors can create longer-lasting, more predictable batteries for forklifts.

  2. Carbon-Enhanced Lead-Acid Batteries

    - When lead-acid batteries discharge, harmful deposits can form on negative electrodes. These deposits limit battery lifespan and hinder performance.

    In 1997, researchers at the Japan Storage Battery Company found that the addition of carbon to traditional lead-acid batteries prevented the buildup of deposits on electrodes. This relatively simple process can lead to much longer lifespans for batteries; however, more research remains to be done to discover the full range of benefits and potential drawbacks to carbon electrodes for forklift batteries.

  3. High Surface-Area Electrodes

    - Electrodes with greater surface area can provide more current, adding to battery power. By using microstructured lead in forklift battery electrodes, manufacturers should be able to dramatically increase power for heavy lifting tasks. Ultimately, that would lead to longer battery run-times and extended lifespans.

  4. Optimized Battery Handling Equipment

    - Fleet managers look for new motive power technologies to achieve more efficient operations overall. Maybe the bottleneck isn't in the batteries, though, but in the technology used to change, manage, and maintain those batteries.

    The current generation of Operator Aboard Battery Extractors from BHS can already slash battery change-out times to just a few minutes. Meanwhile, Battery Fleet Management systems track the health of each battery, keeping staff alerted to upcoming maintenance requirements.

A combination of highly efficient battery handling equipment and state-of-the-art batteries can keep tomorrow's fleet operating smoothly, without the cost and uncertainty of new, as-yet untested alternatives.

Lead-Acid Forklift Batteries, Yesterday, Today, And Tomorrow

In 1859, a French physicist named Gaston Planté immersed two spirals of lead into a jar filled with sulfuric acid and water, inventing the world's first rechargeable electric battery.

It wasn't until Planté's successor, Camille Alphonse Faure, improved on that design in 1881 that lead-acid batteries really took off on an industrial scale.

Is it any wonder that manufacturers are still looking for the next big technological breakthrough to power electric forklifts? Despite great investments and multiple attempts, though, alternatives to traditional batteries remain on the sidelines of the electric forklift industry.

New motive power technology is bound to improve forklift operation, and soon. It's just that the basic chemistry powering tomorrow’s lift truck fleets may have more in common with Planté's acid jar than with the battery that powers your cell phone.


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Carbon-Enhanced Lead-Acid Batteries.” Energy. United States Department of Energy, Oct. 2012. PDF. 29 July 2016.

Forklifts and Supercapacitors.” Kemet. Kemet Corporation, 2013. PDF. 29 July 2016.

Gaston Planté.” Brittanica. Encyclopaedia Brittanica Inc., 2016. Web. 29 July 2016.

Leading the Charge to Make Better Electric Cars.” NPR. National Public Radio, 8 June 2011. Web. 29 July 2016.