Best Practices: Propane-fueled forklifts deliver savings, performance

Propane-fueled forklifts maintain consistent, 100% power throughout operation, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and have a well-established fuel delivery and cylinder exchange structure.


Some propane-fueled forklift models, like the Toyota 8-Series IC Pneumatic from Toyota Material Handling USA, feature a swing-down bracket that makes propane cylinder changes fast and easy, and help reduce back strain. Courtesy: Propane Education and ReseThere are more than 600,000 propane-fueled forklifts in operation in U.S. manufacturing facilities, warehouses, and distribution centers, according to Propane Education and Research Council (PERC) data. There are many reasons for such widespread use: propane-fueled forklifts maintain consistent, 100% power throughout operation; reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline and diesel models; and have a well-established fuel delivery and cylinder exchange structure.

Economic performance also plays a role. For example, a propane fuel tax credit of 50 cents per gallon through Dec. 31, 2011, due to the passage into law of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, is enhancing the cost-effectiveness of propane-fueled forklifts. The propane fuel tax credit is retroactive to 2010.

These facts are proving important to owners and managers of manufacturing facilities across the United States. Not only do they demand robust material handling equipment that comes with reliable service and good value, those needs are magnified due to an improving global economy and increasing throughput.

Performance, sustainability

According to OSHA, several forklift classes use propane as a fuel source, including:

  • Class IV: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks with Solid/Cushion Tires
  • Class V: Internal Combustion Engine Trucks with Pneumatic Tires

With orders ramping up in many facilities after years of sluggish business conditions, the fact that propane-fueled forklifts maintain consistent operational power is crucial for facility owners and managers who demand efficiency. Why? There is no slowdown as a shift progresses when operating a propane-fueled forklift—the power level an operator experiences when a new propane cylinder is installed will be the same over a shift.

That fact weighs heavily in maintaining efficient throughput. Just as important is propane-fueled forklifts’ faster ground speeds than those that operate on other fuels and power technologies. This means the time to transport pallets of products and materials to and from various areas within a manufacturing facility is reduced. That time savings compounded over weeks, months, and years can provide facility owners and managers an edge as business conditions improve. The high-performance characteristics of propane-fueled forklifts can play an integral role in business growth going forward.

In addition to maintaining efficient throughput to meet customer orders, many owners and managers of manufacturing facilities are keeping a close eye on sustainability and green-related issues. Propane-fueled forklifts are a major contributor in this area as well.

Propane is an approved clean alternative fuel under the Clean Air Act of 1990. Propane-fueled forklifts also cut greenhouse gas emissions by 19% compared with gasoline-fueled counterparts and 7% compared with diesel-fueled. Since an efficient refueling infrastructure is already in place, capitalizing on the sustainability characteristics of propane-fueled forklifts is easy.

Ease of refueling

No matter the make or model, forklifts need a power source to operate. Propane-fueled forklifts provide an advantage in this realm compared to those that operate on other fuels or power technologies. The ease with which an empty propane cylinder can be exchanged allows a facility owner or manager to better allocate equipment and personnel to keep deliveries and materials moving.

For propane-fueled forklifts, that’s just half of the equation. The other half is the benefits afforded by a refueling infrastructure that’s been perfected over decades. That includes cylinder exchange programs offered by propane providers, which usually comprise installation of a cage in a spot convenient for the customer, either indoors or out.

The propane provider replaces empty propane cylinders with full ones during regularly scheduled deliveries, which conserves time and resources for facility owners and managers and is virtually transparent to forklift operators. When a propane cylinder is depleted, an operator simply installs a full one from the cage and continues working.

Some facilities may require large propane volumes, to refuel forklifts and other vehicles, like on-road fleet trucks fueled by propane autogas. In that scenario, the best option may be installation of a no-spill dispenser on site, which can be installed by a propane provider and used to refill both propane cylinders and vehicles.

With manufacturing facility managers identifying the next generation of forklift operators, it’s also critical that appropriate training and safety measures are continually addressed. While exchanging an empty forklift propane cylinder isn’t difficult, entities like PERC and the Railroad Commission of Texas maintain that all cylinder exchanges should be conducted by appropriately trained personnel, using proper safety procedures.

In fact, personnel that have not been appropriately trained should never attempt to exchange a propane cylinder, and must defer to coworkers with appropriate training. Forklift manufacturer safety training courses are critical to achieving that end. Mandates within OSHA Standard 1910.178 (I)(2)(ii) and ANSI/ITSDF Standard B56.1-2009 4.19.2 should also be considered.

A word on cost

The performance, sustainability, and ease of refueling characteristics of propane-fueled forklifts can help manufacturing facility owners and managers better meet customer needs and achieve their own goals. What’s more, the propane fuel tax credit of 50 cents per gallon through Dec. 31, 2011, through the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 only enhances the cost-effectiveness of the technology.

The fuel tax credit is retroactive to 2010, but claims can only be filed once, and must be applied for by Aug. 1, 2011. Facility owners and managers should consult their tax advisor regarding claims for credits or refunds, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website for appropriate dates and forms.

Introducing propane-fueled forklifts to a manufacturing plant’s fleet is a simple matter of contacting a trusted equipment dealer or a local propane provider. Further information can also be found at

The Propane Education and Research Council was authorized by the U.S. Congress with the passage of Public Law 104-284, the Propane Education and Research Act (PERA), signed into law on Oct. 11, 1996. The mission of the Propane Education and Research Council is to promote the safe, efficient use of odorized propane gas as a preferred energy source.

Propane fuel tax credit basics

  • The legislation makes available a 50-cent-per-gallon propane fuel tax credit for manufacturing facility owners and managers through Dec. 31, 2011, and retroactive to 2010.
  • Claims for 2010 propane fuel usage can only be filed once, and must be applied for by Aug. 1, 2011. Claimants must be registered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and follow all documentation requirements.
  • Facility owners and managers should consult their tax advisor regarding claims for credits or refunds, and the IRS website for appropriate dates and forms.

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