Forklift Conversion: The Key To Eco-Efficiency

Forklift fleets offer significant opportunities for warehouses and distribution centers to improve their eco-efficiency. One way is to convert from forklifts powered by internal combustion to electric lift trucks.

The material handling industry has embraced the concept of sustainability with an increasing number of warehouses and distribution centers implementing sustainable practices. The concept is a win-win proposition that, among other things, helps to lower operating costs as companies learn to be more eco-efficient. A 2011 survey by The Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) found that 92 percent of respondents said their companies believe that sustainable initiatives have the potential to save money and resources. The survey also found that the material handling and logistics equipment and technologies most often cited as contributing to environmental stability are automatic identification, totes and containers, and forklifts. 

Forklift fleets offer significant opportunities for warehouses and distribution centers to improve their eco-efficiency. One way is to convert from forklifts powered by internal combustion (IC) to electric lift trucks.

Here are some of the ways electric forklifts help facilities become eco-efficient:

Reduce Carbon Footprint: Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the most damaging greenhouse gases.  Economics for Equity and Environment published a report that found, in 2010, one ton of CO2 in the atmosphere caused up to $893 in economic damage.

By 2050, the group says, these costs could rise up to $1,550 per ton of CO2 emitted.Forklifts offer an often overlooked area in which warehouses and distribution centers can reduce carbon emissions. For every 10,000 hours of use, IC-powered forklifts emit 120,000 more pounds of carbon emissions than electric forklifts.3 Converting to electric forklifts can reduce the carbon footprint immediately.

Cut Maintenance Costs: An electric motor has just one moving part compared to dozens of parts in a combustion engine, many of which are vulnerable to wearing out. In addition, an IC-powered forklift requires regular maintenance, such as the replacement of oil, oil filters and spark plugs. An IC truck costs, on average, 30-40 percent more to maintain over its life than electric trucks due to more frequently scheduled maintenance.3

Increase Productivity: Downtime can have a serious financial impact on a facility. An employee’s actual cost to the company often can be double his/her hourly wage, with the addition of insurance, retirement, training and administrative costs. Electric forklifts do not need to be fueled, which offers timesavings. Furthermore, today’s advanced rapid and opportunity charge options even eliminate the need to change truck batteries, another timesavings.

Reduce Fuel Expenditure: As mentioned, electric powered forklifts do not require any fuel, providing an immediate and ongoing savings. Here is an example of side-by-side fuel expenditure comparison:                                                                                                                                      

IC Forklift

  • 1.5 gallons per hour
  • 2,000 hours x 1.5 gallons =3,000 gallons per year
  • 3,000 gallons x $3.60 per gallon4

$10,800 annual fuel expenditure

Electric Forklift

  • 9 kWh per hour
  • 2,000 hours x 9 kWh =18,000 kWh per year
  • 12,000 kWh x $.10 per kWh5

1,8oo annual "fuel" expenditure

Reduce Noise Pollution: Elevated workplace noise can increase workplace accident rates and cause a variety of health problems such as hearing impairment. Vehicles are a significant source of noise pollution. Unlike an IC-powered forklift, an electric forklift does not produce engine noise, allowing the operator to hear better for enhanced operation and safety.

Minimize Waste: With electric forklifts, there are no engine, transmission or coolant fluid changes and no need to dispose of used fluids, oil and filters. Furthermore, batteries may be recycled, since lead-acid batteries are completely recyclable. 

Reduce Floor Space: With an electric forklift, there is no need for gasoline or propane storage outdoors. Today’s new battery charging technologies (i.e., opportunity or fast charging) eliminate battery changing stations and reduce battery inventory, further freeing valuable floor space.   

Given these factors, it is not surprising that market acceptance of electric forklifts has grown in the last six years, with electric forklifts representing 64 percent of the U.S. market, according to the Electric Power Research Institute,6   In addition, a recent Navigant Research report, entitled “Advanced Electric Forklift Technologies in North America,” states that lead acid batteries will continue to hold a majority of sales for conventional forklifts and annual revenue from advanced electric forklift technologies, such as fast-charging, will grow from $100 million in 2013 to more than $500 million in 2020.7


If application parameters allow it, facilities can become more eco-efficient by converting to electric forklifts. Conversion offers environmental benefits such as reduced waste, emissions and noise pollution. Better still, conversion to electric-powered forklifts also can have a positive impact on the bottom line, offering savings in fuel and maintenance costs, as well as enhanced productivity. For more information on converting from IC-powered to electric forklifts, including an online conversion calculator, visit


Douglas Battery is a brand of EnerSys, a provider of stored energy solutions for industrial applications. More information regarding Douglas Battery can be found at


1 “MHIA Releases Results of Sustainability Study During ProMat 2011,” April 04, 2011,

“New Report: CO2 Emissions Cost Way More Than You Think,” Jaeah Lee, Aug. 3, 2011,,

“Electric Forklift Conversion Transforms Building Products Manufacturer” Electric Power Research Institute, article 3002000292, Dec. 2013

February 2014 LP prices available at

5 “Electric Power Monthly,” Average for all sectors 2013, U.S. Energy Information Administration,

6 “Electric Forklift Conversion Transforms Building Products Manufacturer,” Electric Power Research Institute, 3002000292, Dec. 2013

7 “Advanced Electric Forklifts on Growth Trajectory,” William Opalka, Nov. 8, 2013,\

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