First came the substitution of forklifts with internal combustion engines by those with electric motors, which reduced the use of energy and pollutant emissions inside palletized warehouses.
Now, the new trend is to substitute lead acid batteries by hydrogen fuel cells. Although in the USA the forklifts powered by hydrogen are more popular, the “European demonstration of hydrogen powered fuel cell handling vehicles” project, financed by the European Union, which will finish in December, 2013, having lasted for two years, demonstrates the interest in adopting this technology on a wide scale.
Conventional batteries have the inconvenience of a reduced autonomy and a long charging time. Although more modern forklifts offer important improvements in both features, they still represent an important limitation, especially in warehouses and distribution centres which have to operate 24 hours a day.
Hydrogen fuel cells, on the other hand, offer a greater autonomy plus charging times which are even less than 3 minutes.
But there are also additional advantages such as a longer useful life and a performance which is not affected by low temperatures, a disadvantage which conventional batteries have and which is especially important in refrigerated warehouses.
It is to be expected that in the next few years, many of the forklifts will be powered by hydrogen, a cleaner source of energy whose only emissions are heat and water and they are not built with highly contaminating components such as lead acid batteries.