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Cost-reducing Fuel Alternatives for Forklifts

Black and white photo of a forklift in a warehouse

How many times have you taken a deep breath when you have seen the cost of fuel used by your truck? Probably quite a few times! However, strangely few people seem to worry about the cost of fuel for forklifts and other warehouse equipment. 

But there are ways of reducing this for all the main types - electricity, gas and diesel. 

Electricity

In many warehouses, the policy for charging forklift batteries tends to be “plug it in whenever you are not using it”. That is a good idea in a lot of ways – it makes sure the battery is always topped up, and you don’t have the problem of batteries running out in the middle of a shift (which always seems to happen at the worst time and, to be honest, is really embarrassing).

However, what a lot of people do not realise is that this method of charging can actually reduce battery life. It is, in fact, recommended that traditional lead-acid batteries are allowed to run down to less than 20% capacity before recharging. 

It is much better to charge up at night. Most electricity providers offer day/night tariffs, under which electricity used at night is charged at a much lower rate than that used during the day. It is relatively simple to put a timer on the charger supply (with an override to be used if necessary) to take advantage of this, and you could save a big percentage of the cost.

If you want to be as green as possible, solar panels or other sources of renewable energy can, of course, be installed. The rate of return on investment (ROI) may not be high, but it is good for the environment. You might feel that this is the overriding factor and use renewable energy, which is free at the point of use, for recharging. 

Diesel

If your forklift is a diesel, you can use red diesel. It is called this (in the UK) as it is marked with a red dye to enable it to be identified – it is coloured blue in Portugal, and other countries have yellow or green dye. Diesel fuel used in road vehicles attracts a duty rate of nearly 58 pence per litre (in the UK as at 2019). However, vehicles which are never used on the road can use red or rebated diesel which attracts duty of just over 11 pence per litre. 

You can buy red diesel online in 200-250 litre drums, and this can be used in diesel-powered fork-lifts which are used only on private property. If you do take this option you will need a pump to transfer the diesel to the forklift, and to protect against spillages entering drains: special anti-spill pallets are available for this purpose.  But beware - penalties for using red diesel on the road can be severe and include confiscation of the vehicle.

Gas

If you are using gas for forklifts, it can be bought more cheaply in bulk than by buying in cylinders. And if your usage is high enough, a supplier such as Flogas may be prepared to install a bulk tank.  Terms and conditions will obviously apply in each case, but usually, the gas supplier will bear the capital cost of installation and then charge a rental for the tank and equipment. The user will need to provide an electrical supply. Bulk deliveries of gas are then made periodically and forklifts can be refuelled from the tank. A site survey will be needed before installation as bulk gas tanks are not permitted in some locations, such as within a certain distance of a railway platform.

Savings will vary according to the amount of gas used, and it will be worthwhile only if this exceeds about 5 tonnes per year: which means that it will not be viable for a single forklift operated only on one shift. If you are operating several gas forklifts however it will be well worth investigating. 

So, next time someone talks about fuel costs, you can impress them.  All you need to do is to talk about forklift fuel.