CNG Lift Trucks Can Carry the Load

Lift trucks are essential in many industries and nearly all warehouse operations. Many fuels are used, including diesel, LP and electric batteries. The newest, and possibly the ideal fuel candidate is starting to make its place known. It’s compressed natural gas (CNG). Today CNG is an attractive energy source because of its economy, cleanliness, safety and rapid refueling characteristics


Emission Regulation

Until about 2004, there was a fairly widespread market for conversion engine packages for lift trucks designed specifically for CNG. At that time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicated it planned to begin regulation of lift truck engines manufactured after 2004 as potential emissions sources. Because of the anticipated burden of regulatory testing and compliance documentation, most of the smaller conversion companies discontinued offering packages.

Some lift truck manufacturers which had planned entry into this CNG market also chose to hold off taking this step. A relatively large number of lift trucks converted before 2004 continue in use, and some debate continues as to whether lift trucks manufactured before 2004 can still be converted today. This is a gray area.

Certified conversion options may develop as the market and the availability of CNG refueling stations increases.  However, you can purchase a new CNG lift truck today.


Toyota Offers Line of Equipment

Toyota USA had already entered the market and had engines certified to meet EPA and California Air Resource Board (CARB) standards. Toyota continues to offer new lift trucks designed for CNG, with cushion-tire units in sizes from 4,000 to 6,500 lbs and pneumatic-tire units in sizes from 3,000 to 6,500 lbs. According to Mark Faiman, product manager for this area for Toyota U.S.A., this size range covers about 70% of the current lift truck weight-class market.               

Faiman feels this market has significant potential for growth, particularly for companies that are putting in fast-fill CNG stations for other fleet operations. “What we’re seeing is that CNG lift trucks are especially attractive if the firm already has an installed fast-fill station that can be used for lift trucks on-site.” He notes that CNG use for road-tractors, delivery trucks and other commercial and industrial vehicles is on the increase, and with it comes opportunities for CNG warehouse lift trucks.


Rapid Refueling an Advantage

The high-pressure fuel tank for the Toyota lift truck is approximately the same size and weight as a standard LP tank, however it is refilled in place rather than being exchanged for a full tank, as is the practice with LP. Faiman observes, “With a quick-fill CNG station, the lift truck can be refueled in place without the need to handle a tank.”

This refueling can be completed in a few minutes, rather than the 10-20 minute cycle common for LP. Lifting and handling both the full and empty LP tanks in the exchange process has always been a potential source of worker injury.


Lower Cost Fuel, Ideal for Indoor Use

According to Faiman, CNG is currently 30-50% lower in cost than LP or diesel fuel. It is also attractive because of its low combustion odor and emission characteristics, and because refueling is usually a very quick operation. “Especially for indoor operations, it is more attractive than LP or diesel.”

He explains that with normal warehouse continuous usage, the CNG lift truck will need one refueling during an 8-hour shift. This is similar to the requirement for LP units. In applications where lift truck usage is relatively light and it is not an around-the-clock operation, an overnight slow-fill refueling station is less expensive and is a practical alternative..

As more refueling stations are established, CNG lift trucks become an increasingly attractive option. If your operation is considering going to CNG for other operations, remember to consider converting to CNG lift trucks as well. Each situation is different, but CNG works out well for many of them.

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