Can supercharged lithium iron phosphate batteries bring electric forklifts…

The UK electric forklift market has gained ground in recent years, but its fair to say that the much heralded switch to battery power has largely stayed flat over the past few decades.

Our love affair with the internal combustion engine has meant that for outdoor use at least, diesel and LPG remain top dog. All that, may be about to change.

Battery technology has continued to advance at a rapid rate. Fronius chargers are growing in popularity and now lithium ion batteries are making headway, boosted no doubt by the success of electric cars from the likes of Tesla and Honda, and the growing popularity of electric vans and buses. Other lithium ion battery products are now in mass production and are used in industrial products by major corporations including Black and Decker’s DeWalt brand, the Fisker Karma, Daimler, Cessna and BAE Systems.

As ever, battery charging remains a sticking point for forkift users. Opportunity charging, i.e. the ‘topping up’ of batteries over a short period, causes more harm than good. Anything under 4 hours for a forklift battery is a waste of time, all it does is warm/cook the battery and invalidate the warranty.

Most batteries require much longer to charge, a factor not helped in lithium ion’s case by low electrical conductivity. This problem however has been overcome with the help of the letter “R” – coating the lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO 4) particles with conductive materials such as carbon allows the ions to move more easily within the battery.

Scientists at MIT discovered that by coating lithium iron phosphate particles in a glassy material called lithium pyrophosphate, ions also move faster than in other batteries. Such technology could reduce the weight and size of the batteries and dramatically improve recharging times. A small prototype battery cell has been developed that can fully charge in 10 to 20 seconds, compared with six minutes for standard battery cells, and leading to the prospect of a new dawn in the electric truck market.