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Propane Forklift Considerations in an Electrify-Everything Movement

By Contributing Author | 02/11/2020 | 4:55 AM

By Jeremy Wishart, Propane Education & Research Council

“Electrify everything” is a movement gaining momentum across the country.

Driven by a growing concern for global warming, the movement is intended to encourage businesses to reduce emissions to near-zero carbon levels quickly. But electricity as an energy source with zero carbon emissions is misleading at best, given its upstream emissions and the fact that much of the country’s electricity is manufactured at coal-fired power plants. Fortunately, there is a clean energy alternative that can provide a solution for material handling professionals seeking a better emissions profile for their equipment: propane.

Here are a few things warehouse and facility managers should take into consideration as the electrify-everything movement continues to grow:

Propane is a clean, low-emissions energy source

Since the 1990s, the industry has seen a shift toward cleaner business practices and a growing number of businesses are focused on a low-emissions operation. While this trend has helped give rise to electric forklifts, and the electrification movement, propane is managing to keep pace because of its low-emissions profile.

And the numbers back it up. The Propane Education & Research Council, in partnership with the Gas Technology Institute, conducted a comparative emissions analysis of targeted applications in key propane markets, including forklifts. We analyzed full fuel-cycle energy consumption, greenhouse gas, and criteria pollutant emissions (nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide).

The study revealed that, when compared with electric forklifts, propane can reduce SOx emissions by 76 percent. When it comes to emissions, propane having an edge over electric may come as a surprise to some material handling professionals, as electric’s full emissions profile is often overlooked. While it’s true that electric equipment produces zero emissions during normal operation, it’s important to account for the emissions produced in the creation and transmission of electric batteries. That includes all of the emissions produced at coal-fired plants where electricity is generated, as well as the emissions during transportation to the facility. Not to mention, the disposal process of electric batteries. And when the battery goes dead, facility managers can’t simply dispose of them without severely impacting the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers them a hazardous material, which means they have specific handling and disposal regulations attached.

As the trend toward clean, emissions-reducing alternative energy sources continues, companies should keep renewable propane on their radar. It’s estimated that by 2040, renewable propane will supply nearly half of our nation’s propane demand. The emerging energy source is a byproduct of the renewable diesel and jet fuel production process, which converts plant and vegetable oils, waste greases, and animal fat into energy. Because it’s produced from renewable, raw materials, renewable propane is even cleaner than conventional propane — and far cleaner than other energy sources. And considering its chemical structure and physical properties are the same as traditional propane, renewable propane can be used for all the same applications.

Propane has no hidden costs

When you do the math on the long-term costs of forklift energy options, propane takes top billing in a lot of ways. Propane-powered forklifts consistently cost less than other options, including electric, providing cost savings throughout ownership.

According to data from PERC, the capital costs of propane forklifts are almost 30 percent lower than electric. Unlike their propane counterparts, electric forklifts incur additional utility costs to keep them charged. Electric forklifts’ battery life and power output diminishes over time and can lead to future costs, including additional expensive batteries. Charging electric forklift batteries when the remaining charge is too high or too low can significantly reduce the battery’s lifespan, too. And in many cases, proper disposal or reconditioning of electric forklift batteries can be a costly proposition. The life expectancy of a propane cylinder, in contrast, is three times longer than an electric forklift battery and oftentimes extends beyond the typical lifespan of a forklift. Propane-powered forklifts can also be refilled at any time without impacting the lifespan of the cylinder.

Beyond the initial equipment purchase and the cost of propane itself, all that facility managers and business owners are responsible for is maintenance and storing the cylinders, which they can either purchase or lease from their propane supplier. Business owners may also be able to secure a contract with their local propane supplier, providing more financial peace of mind.

In addition, facility managers who make the move to electric oftentimes forget about the installation requirements that come with electric equipment — which can have a significant impact both financially and structurally. Electric forklifts often require the costly installation of battery charging stations, which must be located in a designated area of the facility. It’s important to note that charging stations may cause issues in some facilities and require costly service upgrades to accommodate the new power requirements. With propane forklifts, however, infrastructure requirements are minimal. Refueling infrastructure requires only storage space for the propane cylinders, freeing up valuable warehouse square footage that would otherwise be occupied by battery stations.

Propane doesn’t sacrifice performance

Lastly, propane keeps businesses operating around the clock. Propane-powered forklifts provide 100 percent power throughout operation, pushing heavy loads at full capacity faster and longer than electric forklifts. One cylinder typically covers an entire eight-hour shift. In addition, propane forklifts maintain more consistent travel speeds and acceleration throughout a shift compared to battery-powered forklifts, according to data from PERC.

Whether used in large operations or smaller fleets, propane provides the quick refueling necessary to keep material moving. Swapping out an empty propane cylinder for a full one takes just a few moments, and eliminates the need for additional expensive, heavy batteries, downtime spent recharging, or strict battery management by crews. Companies can also work with a propane retailer to ensure propane cylinder cages are always full by setting up a tailored refueling schedule.

Visit Propane.com/Material-Handling to learn more about the benefits of operating with propane forklifts.

JeremyWishart (Propane Council)Jeremy Wishart is director of off-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at [email protected].




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Welcome to "One-Off Sound-Off," a blog page devoted to guest commentary on all things supply chain. This is a space where industry leaders can share their opinions and expertise with the logistics and supply chain community. If you have an article or commentary you'd like to share, please consider sending a guest blog proposal to [email protected].


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