Demand for alternative propulsion systems in the intralogistics industry has never been higher. The KION Group has consolidated and concentrated its resources in this space within a dedicated unit. In this interview, Dr. Carsten Harnisch, Vice President New Energy Systems at KION Group, highlights the strengths of and future prospects for this technology.
What role does lithium-ion technology play at the KION Group?
The KION Group is one of the pioneers in this field. Our Li-ion batteries for counterweight forklifts are by far the most technologically advanced in our industry. Lithium-ion batteries are available at Linde Material Handling and STILL for the entire portfolio – and demand is continuously rising. Our customers want future-proof sources of energy that combine cost-effectiveness with sustainability. And this technology has many other advantages as well.
What advantages are we talking about?
They have far greater energy density than the lead-acid batteries. Trucks equipped with Li-ion batteries offer greater performance – from the first to the last minute of any shift. They also offer better efficiency in terms of energy input to output. And our customers feel the benefits every day, as vehicles with the same battery size can be operated for longer periods and the electricity bill at the end of the month is lower than usual. Savings of 30% are realistic. Battery life is also much longer. A single lithium-ion battery is sufficient for the entire service life of a forklift truck. So you do not need to have batteries in stock as replacements. In addition, you do not need storage rooms with extraction systems, as the batteries do not release any gases. And there are no emissions.
How do you charge lithium-ion batteries?
Because the batteries can be topped up intermittently, charging is far more flexible and can be integrated seamlessly into all manner of operational processes. The trucks can be given enough fresh energy for the next shift within a few minutes, for example while the operator is on their breakfast break. The larger batteries can even be used for three consecutive shifts without needing a charge. No matter what the task, there is a lithium-ion battery for any scenario.
For whom are lithium-ion batteries especially attractive?
As they are so clean, these batteries are particularly suited to areas with high standards of hygiene, such as foodstuffs or pharmaceuticals. The batteries are also ideal for tough, multi-shift use cases with high energy consumption, for instance for moving construction materials. The switch to lithium-ion is certainly always economically advantageous where lead-acid batteries have to be regularly replaced. Plus, Li-ion is appealing to any business looking for a sustainable, zero-emission solution.
What can we expect from the KION Group in the future in terms of alternative powertrains?
When it comes to lithium-ion, we are in the midst of developing the next generation of batteries – which in all probability will be manufactured by KION Battery Systems, a dedicated joint venture founded with BMZ. What’s more, there will be new approaches to energy management. But Li-ion is just one of many areas our unit is looking at. There are also exciting prospects for fuel cells, and KION Energy Systems is focusing significant effort on this technology. All in all, going forward, we will offer an even broader portfolio of sustainable and high-performance propulsion solutions.