For ports to fulfil their part in meeting emissions reduction goals, they need the right power technology and the infrastructure to support it. Luckily, the number of suitable electric options for forklifts and material handling equipment continues to grow.
However, before deciding whether to electrify, it’s important to consider what options are available and which considerations are priorities for the operation.
Going electric without compromising operational requirements
Leaving behind internal combustion engine (ICE) power in favour of electrification does not mean sacrificing productivity. Electric power can deliver the performance you expect from a diesel, with charging capability to work effectively in heavy duty applications. Electric drivetrains also have fewer components and less complexity than ICE, offering similar or better reliability with reduced maintenance.
Electric options can also help reduce costs related to fuel consumption and engine maintenance. Currently there are incentives, grants, and offset credit programmes that make the business case even more attractive.
Of course, electric lift trucks may not make sense for every port or terminal operation. Factors like local utility grid capacity and run time requirements come into play. For example, more developed areas with weak electric grids can experience brownouts that slow down operations and time spent charging equipment must not compromise operational schedules.
What are the electrification options for port applications?
Lithium-ion batteries can provide an electric option capable of delivering the diesel-like performance terminal operations require. This capability is possible because lithium-ion batteries can tolerate a high energy draw without overheating or dropping in efficiency. Lithium-ion technology also provides far greater energy density, power transfer, and service life than lead-acid batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries are powering lift trucks of increasingly high capacity. For example, Hyster recently introduced the J10-18XD lift truck with factory integrated lithium-ion power, for lifts up to 18-tonnes. With 350-volt lithium-ion batteries, these trucks will still be going strong when 120-volt lead-acid batteries are done for the day.
Lift trucks powered by hydrogen fuel cells may also be an option. These solutions have zero harmful emissions and are maintenance-friendly. An added benefit is the speed with which they can be refuelled — as quickly as three minutes. Hydrogen fuel cell and lithium-ion battery powered solutions are in development for container handlers and ReachStackers.
What does electric mean for ergonomics?
Many operations are struggling to recruit, train, and retain sufficient labour. Ergonomic, electric equipment can be part of the answer to maximising the efficiency and productivity of operators and their time.
Reduced charging or refuelling time, fewer maintenance requirements and easier serviceability can all add up to operators spending more time working and less time waiting. The reduced maintenance workload associated with electric trucks can also help businesses struggling to source technicians from a tight skilled labour pool.
Electric trucks can also support a work environment that can offer greater operator comfort and performance. With no internal combustion engine running, truck noise levels and vibration are reduced, and there are no tailpipe emissions. The smaller, lighter form factor of a lithium-ion battery pack can also enable strategic design decisions that provide more space in the operator compartment for greater comfort and convenience.
What does the future hold for electrification?
Power sources influence sustainability, and also the utilisation and efficiency of workers, operational space, time and more. Advanced electric options like lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen fuel cells deliver on long-term value and total cost of ownership, helping reduce emissions and maintenance costs while boosting performance and efficiency. But delivering on that promise requires the right partner.