Propane vs Electric: How Do These Energy Sources Compare?

Propane Research and Education Council (PERC)

When material handling professionals select the best equipment for their operations, it usually comes down to propane and electricity. While both energy sources offer unique benefits, propane checks all the important boxes for teams to operate efficiently with minimal impact on the environment and their bottom line.

It is important to see how these energy choices compare in terms of common purchasing priorities such as emissions, cost, reliability and performance.

Environmental impact

Clean emissions are a growing priority among material handling professionals as the industry works hard to fight climate change and support cleaner air quality. When people think of forklift fuels on the market, they assume electric is the cleanest due to its perceived zero-emissions operation. The truth is, crews need to consider the entire site electricity emissions at the source and when you compare the two, propane offers a more transparent emissions profile.

Site-at-source emissions from electric forklifts include all emissions created during the production and distribution of electricity, as well as emissions produced during the production of electric batteries. And, because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers electric batteries a hazardous material, operators cannot simply dispose of them without serious harm to the environment. Propane forklifts also produce up to 76% less sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions than electric forklifts, according to an emissions analysis conducted by the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) and the Gas Technology Institute.

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Productivity and performance

Every material handling operation wants to avoid costly downtime. Propane allows companies to operate 24 hours a day avoiding work stoppages. Propane forklifts deliver 100% power throughout operation, pushing heavy loads to full capacity faster and longer than electric forklifts. A cylinder typically covers a full eight-hour shift. Additionally, propane-powered forklifts maintain more consistent travel speeds and acceleration throughout a shift compared to battery-powered forklifts, according to PERC data.

Operators using propane equipment can get back to work sooner and maintain high productivity standards instead of waiting for long refill times or difficult refueling needs. Whether used in large operations or small fleets, propane provides the rapid refueling needed to keep equipment moving. Replacing an empty propane cylinder with a full one takes just minutes and eliminates the need for expensive and heavy extra batteries, downtime spent recharging, or strict battery management by crews. Businesses can also set up a custom refueling schedule with their local propane supplier to ensure cylinder cages are always full.

Because propane offers the versatility to handle virtually any size workload and, most notably, dominates the medium and heavy weight classes of forklifts with a 90% market share of Class 4 and 5 forklifts powered by propane.

Cost of ownership

Implementing sustainable business practices can sometimes cost more, but with propane, businesses can realize significant cost savings through their emissions reduction efforts.

Capital costs for propane-powered forklifts are nearly 30% lower than electric forklifts, considering the equipment needed to recharge the battery. Propane helps avoid these additional expenses and provides cost savings throughout the ownership, allowing businesses to save money for other line items like new employees, additional training, or business development. business, to name a few.

Propane cylinders last three times longer than electric forklift batteries and their lifespan is not affected by the amount of fuel left in the tank, whereas a battery with too much or too little charge can have a much shorter lifespan. Businesses that operate propane can also enter into a fuel contract with their local propane supplier for added savings and financial peace of mind.

When companies select the best equipment for their specific material handling needs, it’s important to keep cost, performance and true environmental impact in mind. Today’s propane-powered forklifts make it easy to make the right decision.

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