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The science of batteries

08 March 2018

Juice Stored Energy MD Andrew J Clarke tells HSS editor Simon Duddy the mix of balance sheet and operational issues users should consider when assessing forklift battery technology.

As lithium-based battery solutions gain traction in the UK, does this spell the end for lead-acid? No, says Juice Stored Energy MD Andrew J Clarke, who conjured up an image more typical to the Royal Albert Hall than a warehouse when illustrating his point.

“Lead-acid is a tried and tested technology. It will continue to have its place, as one part in an orchestra of solutions. It’s an extraordinary recyclable product, resilient against heat and cold. It’s an old technology, but the latest tech is not necessarily the best for your operations.”

But with lithium-based batteries being maintenance-free, I asked Andrew if they are a ‘no-brainer’?

“I think we have to be scientific in our approach,” he explains. “If you are looking at it from a balance sheet perspective at the moment, you’ll move away from lithium because your cost of maintenance is lower than the cost of the asset itself, when you are only recovering twice the longevity. The balance sheet says stick with lead-acid.

“But if you are an operations manager, focusing on the throughput of pallets at a busy DC and efficiency of space, then the argument will favour lithium.”

Andrew’s central argument is there is always a trade off, and you have to understand what is most important to you as an operator.

Juice is solution-agnostic, it runs lead-acid maintenance packages for clients, but has and will advise clients to opt for lithium if appropriate.

“We can offer anything, we’re not tied to any brand, manufacturer, or technology. That’s our key selling point,” says Andrew.

Andrew sees lithium as a ‘huge hammer to smash a small nut’ and says with a good lead-acid maintenance contract well delivered, busy forklift users need not suffer battery degradation and downtime issues.

Lithium-ion batteries are predicted to fall in price as their usage grows, and forklift manufacturer Jungheinrich predicts lithium-ion batteries will be cheaper than lead-acid counterparts by 2021. 

Andrew says: “There will be a crossover point, but what isn’t being considered is the available of lithium as a commodity. It is getting stretched and the downward cost curve could meet an availability headwind in the future, with prices rising again. Lithium is in demand, and not just for MHE, its used in laptops, electric vehicles and much more.”

Andrew also cautions against reading too much into battery lifetimes measured in years. 

“Lithium-ion batteries are expected to last for 4,000 cycles. So a battery carrying out single shift operation, for 300 days a year, over 12 years, will complete 3,600 cycles. But if you start to consume those cycles in a hardworking multi-shift operation, that battery may not last much more than 5 years.”

Despite the maintenance-free selling point of lithium batteries, Juice will offer a lithium-ion maintenance package.

“We are engaged with manufacturers to take on their service element. In our industrial world, lots of things happen, cables get broken, chargers damaged and things fail. For example, lithium-ion requires control and an overcharged battery requires a technical recovery,” explains Andrew.

Recent rebrand

Juice Stored Energy was formerly known as Fortis Battery Care. It grew rapidly to over 48 employees in 7 years offering industrial battery services across the UK to clients such as JLP, K&N, Waitrose, Walkers, Nestle, and ALDI/Booker.

With the Juice Stored Energy re-brand, the company is – while staying focused on battery service – adding another string to its bow as an independent stored energy specialist. They help companies to be less dependent on the energy grid, providing the solutions for self-management and autonomy from grid providers.

Andrew Clarke says: “Resilience is becoming increasingly critical for all businesses. Access to regular uninterrupted, grid supplied electrical power at a known and consistent cost provides a challenge for business, in these terms Energy ‘Resilience’ will become a critical consideration. Stored energy is just one element of resilience that will see organisations using power from stored energy devices, including fork lift truck batteries, to power a range of functions. In short therefore the fork lift truck battery can be used for a lot more than moving pallets. To many in distribution this is a new concept but energy managers across the country are realising the benefits of independence from the grid.

“In the UK there is a widening gap between demand and generation, renewable energy struggles to match the peaks in demand from consumers. Energy storage, specifically batteries, are very much the New Oil in my opinion and Juice is embracing that revolution.”

Ambitious business plans also incorporate a range of additional products including uninterrupted power supplies for hospitals or data centres, anywhere that requires a backup, stored energy device. Emerging sectors, for which NDAs are in place, include solar energy and electric vehicles.