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Calor answers key questions on LPG and forklifts

08 January 2015

Andy Kellett, Calor Gas forklift trucks national account manager, answers key questions on the use of LPG with forklifts.

Diesel and electric have seen (and are seeing) very significant developments in how they are used with forklifts but LPG just seems to keep on trucking. Is it really that simple? We spoke to leading LPG provider Calor to find out.


Simon Duddy: Emissions regulations for forklift engines are getting much tighter. What impact has this had on LPG as a fuel option?


Andy Kellet: While some highly efficient diesel engines omit less CO2 than similar sized LPG powered engines, this is more to do with engine design and the relative efficiencies of engine models. Ultimately, LPG has the lowest overall CO2 emissions compared to both diesel and UK-generated electricity (www.bre.co.uk/sap2009). It is also a cleaner fuel in terms of nitrous oxides, sulphur oxides and particulates omissions. In tests carried out at the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire, LPG trucks produced up to 98% fewer air particulates compared to diesel. If burnt efficiently, LPG does less harm to our environment than other fossil-based fuels and will continue to deliver these benefits – assuming that engine design for all types of forklift trucks continues to focus on improved efficiencies.


The emergence of dual fuel technology (diesel / LPG mix) in long-haul transport and investment in LNG powered HGVs suggests that LPG / gas could play a larger role in reducing both CO2 and particulate emissions in years to come.

 

SD: Many forklift manufacturers are producing increasingly robust, long-life, high capacity electric models. How much of a threat is this to LPG? How can you respond?


AK: Electric trucks are used almost exclusively indoors, and although LPG trucks fitted with a three-way catalytic converter can also be used indoors, as well as outdoors, there is an understandable aversion to using combustion engines deep inside a warehouse for extended periods. Unless there is a sudden swing towards using electric trucks outdoors, improvements in electric truck technology are unlikely to affect sales of LPG trucks. 


However, it should not be forgotten that although electric trucks are very clean, at point of use, and are also increasingly efficient, they rely mainly on national grid electricity to charge their batteries. Much of the UK’s centrally generated electricity is produced using coal, and essentially this electricity, which charges most electric truck batteries, has been generated at below 40% efficiency (http://peprenewables.com/electricity-generation-efficiency-uk-2012/) and by a fossil fuel. These supply-line factors are not always taken into account when calculating an electric truck’s overall efficiency, CO2 output and general cleanliness at a UK level.

 

SD: Calor recently made a breakthrough in bio-LPG. Does this have implications for forklifts? If so, please explain.


AK: Calor’s bio-LPG can be used as a direct substitute for fossil-based LPG, thereby offering a relatively low carbon, renewable option for powering conventional LPG engines, boilers and the like. Large corporate organisations are certainly keen to reduce their carbon footprints in whatever way they can, so larger businesses with big forklift truck fleets might see a switch to bio-LPG as an attractive option.

 

SD: Do you offer a managed LPG cylinder service for forklift users? 


AK: Calor’s local centres and dealers operate a ‘milk round’ service. This means they will visit weekly, or as many times as is required, and deliver whatever amount of gas the customer has ordered, while collecting any empty cylinders. The benefit of such a service is that the customer doesn’t need to store excess cylinders, which can tie-up space and potentially be a health and safety issue in line with the codes of practice. Storing excess cylinders can also adversely impact cash flow.


SD: How has the Calor Think Tank been received since its launch?


AK: Extremely well. It’s tried and tested technology that Calor fits free of charge wherever possible. The obvious benefit is that Calor takes on the responsibility of ensuring the customer has a continuous supply of LPG. Customers can forget about monitoring gas levels, and they don’t have to worry about manually placing an order for more LPG. 


SD: Forklift users sometimes complain that indicators showing gas levels in a cylinder are inadequate. What is Calor doing to improve this?


AK: The indicators that measure cylinder contents are components that form part of the vehicle and are designed and specified by the forklift truck manufacturers; they are not something that Calor supplies on, or with its cylinders. This particular problem needs to be brought to the attention of the vehicle manufacturers who in turn can approach Calor for advice when attempting to improve their existing designs.

 

SD: LPG forklifts are safer to use indoors than diesel powered models, but they are not safe if the room is not well ventilated. Does the reputation of LPG as a cleaner fuel blind operators to its potential dangers? (Click here for an example of what can go wrong)


AK: Not at all. Any business that burns a fuel in a confined space should be aware of potential carbon monoxide poisoning and should be applying government regulations to ensure the health and safety of staff. 


Despite LPG’s clean reputation, businesses should still observe standard safety practice through the implementation of properly designed buildings, ventilation systems and installation of certified monitoring equipment. Regular inspections of both buildings and the forklift trucks themselves are also essential and should be standard practice for every business. Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide only occur if the fuel is not being burnt efficiently so regular servicing and inspections are paramount. 


LPG is clean if burnt efficiently. It is testament to the fuels’ cleanliness that an LPG forklift truck, fitted with a three-way catalytic converter, can legally operate inside a warehouse whereas diesel has the added problem of a high particulate count and confirmation from the World Health Organisation that diesel exhaust fumes are potentially carcinogenic.

 

SD: An LPG burning forklift in a warehouse can 'leave an oily film' on goods. What can be done about this?


AK: LPG when burnt efficiently gives off CO2, water vapour, and heat – plus a tiny amount of other trace elements. The oily film, comprising hydrocarbon particles, is largely due to inadequate ventilation, which of course can be resolved by ensuring that a building or space has suitable ventilation to match its purpose and volume. Again, any LPG truck that is used inside a warehouse should be fitted with a three-way catalytic converter.

 
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