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Which Battery Type Is Best for Your Forklift: Lithium-Ion or Lead-Acid?

Within the world of material handling, electric-powered vehicles typically utilise two types of batteries: lithium-ion (Li-ion) and lead-acid. Each comes with its own advantages, but when choosing which battery type is right for your forklift, the primary deciding factors come down to maintenance, price, efficiency, sustainability, application and TCO (total cost of operation).

Ben Haseley

In this article, we will discuss Li-ion and lead acid batteries to offer a glimpse into the benefits of each and help you discover which is the best option for your operations.

Lithium-ion batteries for forklifts

Say goodbye to maintenance

Li-ion batteries are completely maintenance-free. Their charging system negates the need for battery changing and additional physical maintenance that you would need to carry out with the likes of lead-acid batteries; Li-ion batteries do not require topping up and do not spill hazardous materials.

Charge on the go

Li-ion batteries allow for opportunity charging, which provides greater flexibility and reduces downtime. Every time an operator steps off a truck, for a couple of minutes, there’s an opportunity to charge it. For example, if an operator takes a tea break, they can put a Li-ion battery on charge.

A Li-ion battery will be almost fully charged in an hour and a half. 

With opportunity charging, Li-ion batteries never need to reach 0%.  They will typically always be between 50-100% whereas lead-acid might take around 8 hours to charge to get from 20% to 100%. Forklifts that can be charged in this way allow you to consistently have an available fleet, increasing your uptime. This is significant no matter the size of your operations, but bigger fleets will see the biggest benefits.

Everyone loves efficiency

This battery charging option is highly efficient, particularly for chill stores and large warehouses, is suitable for single, two, or multishift applications, and eliminates the need to change batteries on-site or drive them to a battery facility. Li-ion batteries are also usable both indoors and outdoors.

Lower lifetime costs

While they boast high efficiency, Li-ion batteries are around 35% more expensive on the initial purchase than lead-acid. However, after making the initial purchase, they offer cost savings over time. Depending on your application, Li-ion batteries can last anywhere from 5-10 years so, for many, it's worth the investment.

Batteries you can depend on

Lithium-ion batteries have a longer opportunity life, consistently high performance, and are safer due to the fact that operators won’t have to come into contact with hazardous materials (which reduces the risk of accident at work claims and financial loss due to operators taking sick leave). Additionally, Li-ion batteries are space-saving as no charging room is required, meaning more space for other equipment or warehouse operations.

Not forgetting their environmental impacts

In terms of their sustainability, Li-ion batteries produce zero emissions or gases during use. They’re small and compact with no real need to change the battery unless it’s damaged. It should be noted that the recyclability of Li-ion batteries is still catching up with lead acid.

Lead-acid batteries for forklifts

Pay less upfront

The initial cost of lead-acid batteries is significantly lower than their Li-ion counterpart. Lead-acid batteries are often seen as the ‘go-to’ traditional battery option for forklifts as they have been in the industry for over 30 years.   The maturity of this power solution makes it a reliable, tried-and-tested option for your material handling operations.

Recycle, recycle, recycle

Lead-acid batteries have the benefit of being highly sustainable, with about 80% of the material generated being recyclable or reusable. It’s advised to take your lead-acid battery to a particular facility, rather than trying to recycle or dispose of the battery yourself, as they contain hazardous materials.

A word of caution

The toxic contents of a lead-acid battery should be seriously considered. If you’re changing a battery, there’s always the potential for spillages, which can be detrimental to the health and safety of your warehouse operators as well as the products you hold. If you operate in a pharmaceutical or food processing area, for example, dropping a battery while changing it poses the risk of water, lead, or acid being exposed to people and/or products, causing harm and damage.

Are you set up to handle lead-acid?

Consisting of lead plates and electrolytes (sulfuric acid and water), lead-acid batteries are often tough to move around as they can weigh up to 1.8 tonnes. Although they’re cheaper at the initial point of purchase, they may cost you in other areas. Lead-acid batteries have to be topped up with water once a month, require additional labour in terms of battery changes, and replacing lead-acid batteries can be expensive. These are all real factors that can negatively impact your TCO and cost you more in the long run.

If you think that lead-acid batteries are the right solution for you, we provide easy-to-use battery changeover equipment that is manufactured in the UK. Get in touch here to find out more.

Lithium-ion vs. lead-acid batteries: key takeaways

Ultimately, when it comes to lithium-ion vs. lead-acid batteries for forklifts, everything is site-specific. What matters most is what you want to gain from your batteries. The lead-acid battery is a tried-and-tested solution, so if you are happy to replace batteries efficiently and recycle them correctly, lead-acid batteries offer an initial cost-benefit that makes them a viable option.

While they are more expensive up front, Li-ion batteries are going to keep your costs down in the long term. More agile operations will get the most out of being able to charge Li-ion batteries opportunistically with fewer maintenance requirements. You’ll save space and reduce your emissions, too.

Still not sure? Take the battery-type test

That being said, not all material handling operations are suited to using Li-ion; you can discover whether or not Li-ion is a suitable solution for you by fitting a battery discharge indicator (BDI) on site. The BDI continually measures the state of the charge and the discharge level on the battery,   and when (or if) your operations have the ability for opportunity charging.

Whether it’s fewer upfront costs or more cost-effective operations in the long run, switching to the best battery type could save you a lot of money at a time when operations everywhere are feeling the squeeze.

If you want to find out more, download our free Quick Battery Guide below by clicking on the button or contact us.