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Powering material handling equipment

4 min to readSustainability
Whether your location uses forklifts, reach trucks, or tow tractors to get the job done, the power source is a critical consideration and possibly an item that is often overlooked or forgotten.
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Whether your location uses forklifts, reach trucks, or tow tractors to get the job done, the power source is a critical consideration and possibly an item that is often overlooked or forgotten. Power solutions for material handling equipment have changed dramatically in recent years. Today's options are intelligent, more efficient, safer, charge faster, last longer, and require little or no maintenance. Lead-acid batteries and propane have been the standard for many years regarding material handling equipment such as forklifts. However, they are slowly being phased out in favor of cleaner, efficient, and more cost-effective options like lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.

Evaluating power usage

Trends such as E-commerce, Omni channel retailing, and labor challenges have driven the need for more automation and efficiencies in warehouses and distribution centers. The bottom line is that today's consumers demand faster turnaround times and more personalized service than ever before, putting pressure on warehouse operators to find ways to increase productivity while reducing costs. Even small changes can generate significant productivity improvements, and one area ripe for improvement is how businesses power material handling equipment.

What's trending?

Lithium-ion batteries are all the rage thanks to reduced costs and the ability to power more oversized items such as material handling equipment. These batteries offer several advantages over legacy power methods, including:

Hydrogen fuel cells are also becoming more popular for powering material handling solutions. These cells produce electricity through a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, and they offer several advantages over traditional power methods, including:

In November of 2018, the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies office shared their fact of the month "More than 20,000 hydrogen fuel cell forklifts are now in warehouses, stores, and/or manufacturing facilities throughout the United States. Hydrogen-powered forklifts offer refueling in minutes, increased performance, and zero emissions for use within warehouses and buildings."

Walmart is no stranger to hydrogen-powered forklifts, having used them for over ten years. Walmart continues to invest in this technology under its new agreement with Plug to produce and utilize green hydrogen to power its forklifts.

The case for switching power solutions

It is a great time to evaluate your power options for your material handling equipment and switch to a cleaner, more efficient alternative. Not only will you be doing your part to protect the environment, but you'll also be positioning your business for future success. Using a power management system can help tell the story of power needs and usage and allow your business to make incremental changes to your material handling fleet that can pay big dividends.

More Space

Switching to Lithium-Ion from lead-acid eliminates the need for battery rooms used for maintenance and swapping batteries. Lithium-ion batteries can be charged whenever possible during breaks, meetings, or downtime without negatively impacting the battery's life. The flexibility of the charging stations allows for efficient operations to dictate the best-suited charging location as opposed to a pre-existing battery room.

With warehouse space at a premium, businesses switching to a lithium-ion solution can repurpose the battery room space for value-added activities.

Reduce Energy Costs

Lithium Ion batteries use 30% less energy than traditional lead acid batteries, and electric power is often much cheaper than natural gasses like propane. This change will also reduce the carbon footprint of the organization.

Longer Lasting

Traditional lead-acid batteries need to be replaced every 1,000 to 1,500 cycles, where Lithium-Ion batteries usually last between 2,000 and 3,000 cycles. A lead-acid battery will have a lower upfront cost. However, lead-acid's maintenance and operational costs are much higher than Lithium-Ion.

Faster Charging

The flexibility of powering material handling equipment with lithium-ion batteries keeps your equipment running, which increases productivity. Lithium-Ion batteries can be recharged in as little as 2 hours or charged for smaller amounts of time when convenient. Lead-acid batteries generally take 8 hours or more to charge and should only be charged once they reach 10-15%.

Increase Productivity

One of the significant drawbacks of lead acid batteries is the need to charge for 8 hours and cool for an additional 8 hours. This means facilities that want to run their material handling equipment more than one-third of the time need to carry spare batteries. The lithium-ion option is a slam dunk for businesses that run multiple shifts. Simply switching the battery type allows you to run your business with less equipment, fewer batteries, and reclaim space.

Less Maintenance

Lead-acid batteries require regular maintenance, including adding water to the cells and equalizing the charge. This maintenance isn't a value-added activity for employees, not to mention it is unsafe. Lithium-ion batteries do not require this type of maintenance, which reduces both the time and cost associated with keeping batteries operational.


If you are looking to make a significant impact on cost savings and efficiency, evaluating how you power your material handling equipment is a great place to start. LeasePlan can help you navigate the process and find the best solution for your business. We've helped companies of all sizes switch to lithium-ion power and are committed to making it an easy transition. We have the knowledge and experience to help you switch to a cleaner, more efficient option that will save you money and increase productivity. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you power your material handling fleet.

Published at December 8, 2022
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December 8, 2022
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