Which type of drive will lead intralogistics into the future?

In times of climate change and the diesel scandal, the question arises: How will fleets be powered in the future? The need for economical, sustainable intralogistics solutions is huge, but new equipment or upgrades are still costly. In this interview, Linde Material Handling expert Stephan Rübhagen discusses the advantages and disadvantages of two popular forms – lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells – and provides initial forecasts on the future viability of the two drive options.

Mr. Rübhagen, if you wanted to persuade a customer to switch to lithium-ion – what would be your main argument? This always depends on the individual deployment profile: Which shift model is being driven? How intensive is the deployment? In which temperature ranges do you work? If I had to settle on one main argument, it would be the superior energy efficiency of this technology: You get most of the electricity you put into the batteries converted into kinetic energy. Compared to conventional lead-acid batteries, lithium-ion systems operate up to 30 percent more efficiently.

30 percent sounds very convincing at first. What other features does this technology bring to the table? There are a number of factors: locally emission-free operation, no battery gases, resistance to extreme temperatures and the conceivably simple handling. Intermediate and fast charging options make this technology particularly interesting for multi-shift systems. Depending on the battery capacity and charger, customers can generate over an hour of driving time in just a few minutes. A small 24-volt battery is fully charged again in just one hour with our highest-performance charging unit.

Let’s talk about a second, currently much-discussed energy solution for industrial trucks: What opportunities do you see for the fuel cell? From a technological point of view, the fuel cell has enormous potential for use in goods handling. Fuel cell devices are locally emission-free on the road and score points for their extremely high availability, as the refueling process hardly takes any longer than with diesel or LPG trucks. Due to the high energy density, these vehicles complete long missions absolutely effortlessly.

That all sounds pretty good at first. And what is the other side of this coin? For manufacturers, it is currently primarily the value chain – and for customers, the infrastructure. In terms of purchase price, fuel cell forklifts are on a similar level to their lithium-ion counterparts; but companies also need their own hydrogen filling station, including a hydrogen supplier, or an on-site electrolysis plant. However, the fuel cell can certainly pay off, especially for large fleets.

So who will come out on top in the long term – Li-ion or the fuel cell? AtLinde Material Handling, we have gained experience with both concepts, and with the fuel cell since 1997. But it is not possible to establish the technology in the market on one’s own. It needs more comrades-in-arms, especially in the areas of infrastructure and hydrogen production. In the long term, given the right conditions, fuel cells should become more attractive due to the high availability of equipment. Li-ion technology will also continue to develop, and there is still potential, especially in terms of sustainability and energy density. I think both technologies will coexist and complement each other perfectly. Not an “either or,” but rather a “both and.”

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