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October 25, 20234 min read

How to Lower Total Cost of Ownership with Li-ion Batteries

This is a summary from the panel discussion by the same title by Robin Schneider, Director of Marketing, Green Cubes Technology, at the Future of Electrification 2023 conference. Watch the full session here:

In the world of material handling and warehouse logistics, forklifts, and other off-road equipment are often powered by lead-acid batteries or internal combustion engines. However, the maintenance, safety risks, and limited lifespan of these options make them expensive and inefficient. In recent years, lithium-ion batteries have emerged as a more advanced and cost-effective solution. In her presentation, Robin Schneider, Director of Marketing at Green Cubes Technology, discussed the benefits of using lithium-ion batteries in material handling equipment and how they can lower the total cost of ownership.

During her presentation, Schneider suggested that one of the biggest advantages of lithium-ion batteries is their improved safety. Lead-acid batteries require time-consuming maintenance and can be risky to handle due to the sulfuric acid and water electrolyte they contain. The plates in lead-acid batteries release hydrogen gas during charging, requiring extensive ventilation and posing a fire hazard. In comparison, lithium-ion batteries are fully sealed and require almost no maintenance. This eliminates the risk of acid spills, leaks, or exposure to hazardous substances commonly associated with lead-acid batteries, making lithium-ion batteries a much safer option. Eliminating these safety concerns means businesses no longer require costly eye wash stations, safety shower equipment, and ventilation systems. By minimizing workplace hazards and reducing the risk of accidents, businesses also have the potential to lower their insurance costs.

The reduced maintenance requirements of lithium-ion batteries also result in significant savings in labor costs. In contrast to lead-acid batteries, which demand regular watering, acid residue cleaning, and equalization, lithium-ion batteries are virtually maintenance-free. Schneider explained that monitoring and maintaining lithium-ion batteries usually only involves connecting them to a laptop and using software or firmware for diagnostics and troubleshooting. This streamlined approach not only saves valuable time but also reduces the need for extensive manual labor.

Lithium-ion batteries are non-toxic and do not contain rare metals such as cobalt and nickel. Schneider emphasized that among the available chemistries, lithium iron phosphate (LFP) stands out as the safest option with a stable chemical makeup. Additionally, the separator between the anode and cathode in lithium-ion batteries has seen significant improvements in the last decade, and the battery management system provides protection against short circuits and thermal runaway. The battery is also equipped with various other safety features, including fuses that safeguard against over-discharge, overcharge, high and low-temperature charging, and other potential safety risks.

According to Schneider, one of the most common motivations to switch to lithium-ion batteries is to lower the total cost of ownership. Lithium-ion batteries offer increased productivity while lowering utility and maintenance costs. Additionally, Lithium-ion batteries have a longer lifespan compared to lead-acid batteries. With a cycle life of approximately 3,000 to 5,000 cycles or up to 10 years, lithium-ion batteries have the potential to outlast the equipment they power. Their longevity eliminates the need for frequent battery replacements, resulting in significant cost savings over time.

Schneider also highlighted the significant operational cost savings associated with lithium-ion batteries. They can be fast-charged, typically in approximately one hour, and are able to accept partial charges without negatively impacting battery life. In contrast, lead-acid batteries require full charge and discharge cycles to maintain their performance. It can take up to several hours for them to fully charge. The quick-charging capability of lithium-ion batteries enables businesses to adopt opportunity charging practices, where batteries are charged during short breaks or idle periods, eliminating the need for dedicated charging time or battery swaps. As a result, equipment downtime is minimized, allowing for continuous operation and increased productivity. 

Lithium-ion batteries offer greater efficiency compared to older battery technologies and internal combustion engines. Schneider explained that they have a higher energy density, allowing them to store and deliver more energy with a smaller size and weight. Increased energy efficiency translates to longer runtimes for forklifts and other material handling equipment. By maximizing equipment uptime and minimizing charging time, businesses can enhance productivity and achieve greater operational efficiency. 

Lithium-ion batteries stand out for their superior cold-temperature performance with no significant loss in performance or capacity. Schneider emphasized that this is particularly beneficial for cold storage facilities, where lead-acid batteries may struggle to perform optimally. She explained, by eliminating the need to warm batteries or transfer them between temperature-controlled areas, businesses can save time, effort, and costs associated with maintaining batteries in cold storage environments.

Schneider shared a recent case study featuring a major third-party logistics company, which showcased the benefits of using lithium-ion batteries for cold storage applications. Previously, the company had been using lead-acid batteries for their electric forklifts, which required watering and frequent maintenance. Lithium-ion batteries offered a solution that would improve productivity, lower utility costs, and improve safety conditions. She explained, that the company replaced their lead-acid batteries with lithium-ion batteries and saw a number of benefits. They reduced their maintenance costs, eliminated the need for safety equipment, and improved their environmental compliance. They also had faster recharge times, which improved productivity.

Lithium-ion batteries are revolutionizing the material handling industry by offering a safer, more efficient, and more cost-effective alternative to lead-acid batteries. They offer numerous benefits, including improved safety, increased productivity, lower utility costs, and a longer lifespan. By switching to lithium-ion batteries, companies can lower their total cost of ownership, reduce their environmental impact, and improve their workplace safety conditions.