The recent and on-going antics of our beloved power supplier are headlining electricity in today’s SA economic and industrial activities, and it is a reminder that perhaps it’s time to re-think our extensive reliance on traditional battery-power for our handling equipment – especially in Cold Stores. Our current batteries are heavy, expensive, inefficient (more so in the cold), and environmentally unfriendly in terms of both manufacture and disposal. They also spend almost as much time being re-charged as they do actually working.
Extensive research into, and development of, Lithium-Ion batteries has been underway for many years (with our own Elon Musk a leader in the field with his Tesla electric cars), and this technology can easily be brought forward to forklifts, reach-trucks etc. Already in Europe Toyota is offering Li-O batteries as standard options in an extensive range of FLTs. These batteries are expensive, but the overall long-term costs have to be related to the facts they are claimed to last 3 times as long and take only an hour or so to charge – hence not needing to be laboriously taken out of the machine each shift for charging (just use lunch breaks, etc.)
Nor do you need spare batteries for multiple shifts, or dedicated battery charging areas. Li-O batteries are also claimed to use only 30% of the electricity of similar output lead-acid ones. Another, even more exciting, possibility is the powering of our FLTs with hydrogen fuel-cell engines. This may sound far-fetched at the moment, but the technology is already in place and has been extensively adopted in USA and Canada – Wal-Mart for instance uses exclusively fuel-cell powered handling equipment in their new facilities. At this stage the supply and provision of hydrogen in SA would be problematic – but this technology will very likely be the next quantum leap forward in our industry.
Alan Moule, Cape Town, May 2015