When to Use a Lead-Acid Vs. Lithium-Ion Forklift Battery

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When to Use a Lead-Acid Vs. Lithium-Ion Forklift Battery

When to Use a Lead-Acid Vs. Lithium-Ion Forklift Battery Oct. 14, 2023

When to Use a Lead-Acid Vs. Lithium-Ion Forklift Battery


If you run a multi-shift operation and haven’t started learning about lithium-ion forklift batteries yet, you may be surprised to know: A lithium-ion forklift battery can pay for itself in less than three years through:

  • Improved productivity
  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • Lower energy bills 
  • And reclaimed space  

Single-shift operations that don’t expect to become multi-shift operations are generally better off with cheaper lead-acid batteries. That said, it’s worth doing the math. 

Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of lead-acid forklift batteries versus lithium-ion forklift batteries. Short on time?  We can help you run the numbers and quickly decide which option is right for you. Contact us online or by phone at 844-LILLYCO (1-844-545-5926).

If you’re debating whether to buy an internal combustion (IC) forklift vs. battery-powered forklift, you might want to read our free Forklift Buyer’s Guide first.

How to Choose the Right Forklift Battery

Nearly two-thirds of all forklifts sold in the U.S. are electric, and 7-10% use a lithium-ion battery. That may not seem like much, but five or six years ago, that percentage was zero.

Experts speculate we're in a big transition period away from lead-acid batteries towards lithium-ion. A recent article from Forklift Action notes:

The benefits of lithium vs. lead-acid batteries have been tested and proven by major companies across all industries ( logistics and 3PL, retail, manufacturing, paper and packaging, metals, lumber, food and beverage, cold storage, medical supplies distribution, etc. Industry experts are speculating about the growth rate… but all agree that the adoption of lithium will continue to accelerate, similar to what we see in the passenger EV market (enabled by similar lithium technology). By 2028, the lithium segment may constitute 48% of all new forklift batteries.

Lead-Acid Forklift Batteries

Let’s start with the standard forklift battery everyone knows: lead-acid. You may have also heard them called flooded lead-acid or wet cell batteries.

If you buy an electric forklift, it will come with a lead-acid battery by default. This type of forklift battery costs significantly less than lithium-ion. But the lower purchase price comes with long-term expenses: weekly maintenance and (for multi-shift operations) a dedicated space for battery charging.

Approximately once a week, lead-acid forklift batteries must be cleaned and watered. This requires a special watering system, safety equipment and properly trained personnel. 

Lead-Acid Forklift Battery Pros:

  • The cheapest option
  • Easy to find service providers when needed

Lead-Acid Forklift Battery Cons:

  • Requires 8 hours to charge plus 8 hours to cool down
  • Power declines as the battery discharges
  • Weekly maintenance (cleaning and watering) required
  • Need space to charge and store extra batteries
  • Capacity decreases up to 35% in cold environments

Lithium-Ion Forklift Batteries

Recently, a major equipment manufacturer discovered they could save $1 million+ per year by switching to lithium-ion. Wondering if your business could uncover massive cost savings like this? Try this simple experiment: 

  • Ask forklift operators to track how much time they spend charging, changing and maintaining forklift batteries every week. Multiply the total time by the hourly cost of labor.

  • Next, add up how much you’ve spent on batteries over the past 10 years. Lithium-ion batteries last  5-7 years (on average). So even though they cost more upfront, you won't buy them as often. 

Add up your labor and battery costs and compare to what you would have spent on lithium-ion batteries (feel free to contact us for pricing). You may find those “cheap” lead-acid batteries cost a lot more in the long run.

You don't need to add in labor costs for lithium-ion forklift batteries because once they get installed in the truck, that's pretty much it. Lithium-ion batteries are virtually maintenance-free. 

Lithium-Ion Forklift Battery Pros:

Lithium-ion batteries can be opportunity charged during breaks without harming the battery. Also, lithium-ion batteries recharge three times faster than lead-acid batteries. Bonus: you don't have to wait for a lithium-ion battery to cool down.

Other benefits include:

  • 30-50% less energy required to charge the battery
  • Consistent power even as the battery discharges
  •  5-7 year lifespan (2-3x longer than lead-acid batteries)
  • Virtually maintenance free (no watering)
  • Zero exhaust

Lithium-Ion Forklift Battery Cons:

  • 3-4x higher purchase price

Lithium-Ion Forklift Battery ROI

Generally speaking, a lithium-ion forklift battery will pay for itself within 3-5 years. A multi-shift operation will recoup costs much faster through: 

  • Reclaimed space
  • Reduced equipment downtime (no battery swapping)
  • Improved employee productivity (no maintenance or battery swapping)
  • Lower energy bills
  • 2-3x longer battery lifespan

Forklift Battery Sales, Service and Advice in the Mid-South

Converting to lithium-ion is extremely easy. We’ve helped dozens of businesses across the Mid-South reduce operating costs by making the switch. 

Our experienced and friendly forklift experts can help you choose the right forklift battery for your operation. Just give us a call at  844-LILLYCO (1-844-545-5926) or contact us online. You can also visit us at one of our 13 locations across the Mid-South.

Arkansas - Jonesboro
Alabama - Birmingham, Dothan, Irondale, Madison, Mobile, and Montgomery
Mississippi - Tupelo and Richland
Tennessee - Jackson, Kingsport, Knoxville, and Memphis

Further Reading:
When to Buy an Electric vs. LP Gas Forklift
Forklift Battery Basics: What You Need to Know
How to Move a Forklift With a Dead Battery - 3 Options

Comparison: Lithium Ion VS Lead Acid Forklift Batteries

The adoption of lithium ion battery powered forklifts such as the new Hyster J1.5-3.5UT counterbalance forklift is becoming increasingly popular due to the advantages they provide over traditional lead acid batteries.

Whilst the initial cost of lithium ion batteries is considerably higher than lead acid alternatives, their two to three times longer operational life, increased efficiency, environmental and safety features make them an appealing alternative.

In this week’s blog we compare and discuss some of the advantages of lithium ion forklift batteries.

Cost Savings

Due to their longer operating life lithium ion forklift batteries offer substantial cost savings across their life.

Some of the ways they contribute to cost savings include:

  • With highly efficient charging lithium ion batteries save money as less energy is needed to be purchased to charge when compared to lead acid counterparts
  • Their ability to power a forklift for longer operational shifts provides cost savings as operators need to spend less time and labour completing battery swaps that need to be regularly completed with lead acid batteries
  • Lithium ion batteries do not need to be maintained or watered in the same way as lead acid batteries, this allows for additional cost savings as operators are able to begin work sooner and work longer without having to spend time and labour cleaning and maintain the battery

Longer Operational Life

Lithium ion forklift batteries have an operational life time that is often two to three times longer than lead acid batteries.

The longer operational life offers significant cost savings across its life as replacement batteries do not need to be purchased as often, reducing the overall cost of battery investment.

Opportunity Charging

Opportunity charging is the ability to charge a forklift battery when the opportunity arises such as during a lunch break or in between assignments.

The ability to be able to opportunity charge lithium ion forklift batteries is perhaps the most significant advantage they hold over lead acid counterparts.
Short charge burst when time permits greatly contributes to the length of time the forklift can be operated which is particularly beneficial to operations that run their forklifts for long shifts.

With lead acid batteries at some point during the shift the operator would need to stop work and replace the battery with a fully charged one to get the forklift to the end of their shift.

Opportunity charging the forklift during breaks for lunch will regenerate battery charge enough in the middle of a shift to make it to the end of the shift without needing a battery change.

Trying to opportunity charge lead acid forklift batteries also significantly shorten their operational life which can lead to extra expense as damaged batteries need to be replaced more often.

Consistent High Performance

The more drained a lead acid forklift battery becomes the more inconsistent its voltage becomes resulting in less power being fed to the forklift towards the end of a shift compared to the beginning.

Lithium ion forklift batteries offer a more constant voltage curve that better maintains the level of power being supplied to the forklift resulting in consistent higher performance across the life of a battery charge.

Lithium ion batteries allow the forklift to perform at the same high level across a full shift compared to the slow performance degradation of a lead acid powered unit across a long shift.

Increased Worker Safety

When maintaining lead acid batteries hydrogen fumes and acid splash are common health and safety concerns to workers, where they could potentially inhale deadly fumes or splashed by corrosive acids.

Lithium ion batteries do not emit dangerous fumes or contain acids that could spill out increasing safety for workers.

No Battery Charging Room Required

When operating lead acid battery powered forklifts especially for large fleets a large and potentially expensive battery charging room is required to house all the necessary charging equipment.

For operations that run multiple shifts per day the battery room needs to be even larger to incorporate enough space to also store spare batteries that are needed to run the forklifts over multiple shifts.

Lithium Ion battery powered forklifts do not require a dedicated battery room to house the charging equipment and spare batteries, allowing valuable warehouse space to be regained for the storing of profitable goods and supplies.

This week’s blog has briefly discussed some of the major advantages lithium ion forklift batteries offer compared to standard lead acid batteries and why their popularity is increasing.

Adaptalift Group are constantly striving to bring the latest innovative technologies available to our customers including the new generation of lithium ion powered forklifts and materials handling equipment.

To find out more about the new lithium ion powered Hyster J1.5-3.5UT counterbalance forklift series or the Hyster PC1.5 lithium ion powered pallet jack contact our team of experts on 13 22 54 or complete a contact form and we will respond as soon as possible.

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