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Lead acid batteries look poised to keep the electric lift trucks coming

By Contributing Author | 09/28/2018 | 6:32 AM

By Harold Vanasse, Senior Director of Marketing, Motive Power Americas for EnerSys

 

Don’t look now, but the move from Internal Combustion (IC) lift trucks to electric lift trucks continues for the material handling industry. Maybe you’ve heard promising reports about facilities switching from IC to battery-powered machines and saving money. You may not have heard that market analysts also see a brighter, “greener” future ahead for electric lift truck fleets. Navigant Research predicts electric forklift growth through 2020. Technavio expects overall market growth for forklift batteries to grow at nearly 9% from 2018-2022.

Of course, it’s currently about 50% cheaper to power and move an electric forklift vs. an IC forklift, so the rise of electric forklifts isn’t really a surprise. What some do find surprising is that the switch from IC to electric forklifts doesn’t (yet) involve emerging energy-efficient battery technologies like Lithium ion or Hydrogen fuel cells. Instead, lead acid batteries are leading the charge across warehouses and Distribution Centers (DCs) – and they’re already a much greener option than you might think.

99% of all lead acid battery materials are RECYCLED

According to the Battery Council International, more than 99 percent of all battery lead, plastic and electrolytes is recycled. In fact, lead batteries are something of an unsung environmental success story, as they are the most recycled product in the United States1. Look how they compare to products that typically come to mind when one thinks recycling:

Product                                              Percentage of materials recycled2

Lead-acid batteries                            99%

Corrugated Boxes                               92%

Steel Cans                                          71%

Newspapers/Mechanical Papers          71%

Major Appliances                                62%

Aluminum Cans                                  55%

Mixed Paper                                       44%

Tires                                                   40%

Selected Consumer Electronics            40%

Most new lead acid batteries contain 60 to 80 percent recycled lead and plastic3, both of which are reclaimed from spent batteries at strictly regulated recycling facilities. Roughly speaking, here’s how lead acid battery recycling breaks down by component materials:

Plastic

Plastic battery covers and cases are crushed into plastic pellets, which are then used to manufacture new cases and covers.

Lead

Battery grids, posts and terminals are melted down, producing lead ingots and lead oxide. Recycled lead is used to make new battery grids, while recovered lead oxide is used in new battery manufacturing.

Electrolyte

Sodium sulfate crystals are separated from used electrolyte (diluted sulfuric acid) and can be used to manufacture textiles, glass and more. Neutralized electrolyte can be reclaimed and reused for new battery manufacturing, or otherwise safely managed.

It’s a closed-loop lifecycle that can continue indefinitely. The millions of lead-acid batteries now starting vehicles, or powering industrial applications, have been, and can continue to be, recycled many times. It makes lead acid batteries an inherently “green” solution in terms of saving money and resources.

About Harold Vanasse

Harold Vanasse is Senior Director of Marketing, Motive Power Americas for EnerSys, the global leader in stored energy solutions for industrial applications. While serving in a variety of roles over the past 20+ years, Vanasse has been influential in bringing innovative solutions to the material handling industry.

 

1https://batterycouncil.org/page/RecylingStudy, published in 2017; originally from Advancing Sustainable Materials Management; 2014 Fact Sheet, Environmental Protection Agency, Nov. 2016

2Advancing Sustainable Materials Management; 2015 Fact Sheet, Environmental Protection Agency, published July 2018, https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-07/documents/2015_smm_msw_factsheet_07242018_fnl_508_002.pdf

3https://www.epa.gov/smm, via http://large.stanford.edu/publications/coal/references/epa/, via http://large.stanford.edu/publications/coal/references/epa/ http://large.stanford.edu/publications/coal/references/epa/

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