“The Numbers Don’t Lie”: Patrick Wozniak on the LI battery revolution

Patrick Wozniak is the GM of ASAP Rental. We sat down to talk about why lithium ion (LI) batteries are taking the industry by storm and the gains that fleet managers can expect when they upgrade to LI.

What changes do handling fleet managers see when they switch to lithium ion batteries?
Where do I start? LI batteries have so many advantages! For one, you don’t need a charge room anymore. You just need a charger and then it’s “plug and play” for your handling equipment. And equipment charging time goes way down, meaning your fleet is much more efficient.

How else do lithium batteries change handling fleet operations?
Battery maintenance goes to zero. There’s no more battery changing; no more water filling. LI simply cuts out these low value-added tasks. The time savings get redirected into productive use of your equipment. Another upshot of being zero-maintenance is that you get big safety increases because people aren’t handling the batteries anymore.

A last point – a big point! – is that LI has much lower energy consumption than traditional lead acid batteries. The numbers speak for themselves when you compare LI to lead acid.

So there’s a clear-cut efficiency win from switching to lithium ion. LI is better for the environment than lead acid; it’s better for companies; and it’s better for the people working with these batteries.

How long has lithium ion been on the market?
LI batteries have been available for a while. I can remember them entering the market in Europe more than ten years ago. But LI wasn’t an overnight sensation; it has really taken off in the past few years.

Why has LI recently become so popular?
There’s been a real evolution in LI’s technology and value. When they came on the market, LI batteries were limited to light applications and low tension – no more than 24 volts. LI could be used for power pallets and stackers, but that was all. Now there’s a much wider range of equipment and applications for LI batteries.

The other change is that, ten years ago, the safety mechanisms for LI hadn’t advanced enough. Early LI batteries had too much potential to ignite or explode, and it was hard to extinguish fires. Since then, safety has been a big focus for LI development. Now we’re seeing a new generation of very safe LI battery technology.

Here in China, the breakthrough was when a domestic company, BYD, introduced its LI battery. Their battery was much safer and they really upped the power – they doubled the power to 48 volts, and sometimes as high as 80. Since then, LI has started making its mark on industrial logistics in China.

What is ASAP’s ability to deliver lithium ion equipment in China?
It’s not a question of ASAP’s ability; we can definitely deliver on rental or purchase of LI handling equipment. ASAP covers all configurations from a 12V range to 80V range. So, that goes from the very light side to the heavy end, where you can get to 6 or 7 tons of equipment-loading capacity.

The question that is important is: which kind of LI solution is best for each customer. To recommend the optimal solution, we need look at each customer’s situation, case-by-case.

What factors does ASAP look at when recommending lithium Ion solutions?
There are many variables to think about when you do a fleet audit. Three big questions are: How many shifts does the facility operate on? What’s the environment and intensity of equipment use? And also, what is the company’s global budget?

It’s important to remember that despite LI-ion technology’s many advantages, not every application requires this type of technology. This is why a careful fleet audit is crucial.

Which handling fleets get the biggest benefit from lithium ion?
Without a doubt, the best match is intensive-use fleets, fleets in facilities doing multiple or round-the-clock shifts every day. Intensive-use gets a huge boost from LI because the battery efficiency is so much higher. It’s a case of creating productivity at scale.

Another good case is companies who don’t have enough room in their facility. Lead acid batteries require a lot of maintenance and handling logistics; to use lead acid, you have to give up valuable space for a charge room and for battery exchange and storage. By switching to LI, you open up all the space that usually gets eaten up by battery maintenance logistics.

Is there an LI option for every kind of handling equipment?
Almost, and the remaining gaps will be filled in soon. Right now, ASAP has a LI solution for all the core business equipment. For a small number of equipment types – cleaning machines and aerial lifts – that lithium ion solution will be ready in the very near future.

How would you describe the ROI on LI batteries?
It’s definitely favorable, but you can’t just cite one ROI. Each business case is unique and, depending on the brand of LI battery, the price will change.

There is a higher upfront cost of LI, usually two or three times higher than traditional lead acid. However, what we can say with certainty is that a LI-ion battery will last double the time of even the best lead acid battery. Best case scenario, with perfect maintenance, a lead acid battery lasts 4 to 5 years.

Any lithium ion battery can be expected to last 10 years or more. Like I’ve said, the numbers don’t lie.

But that’s comparing LI to the best-case scenario. The economic benefits of LI really jump out as soon as battery use becomes more demanding and runs into real-life work conditions like partial charges and multi-battery needs.

So under real work conditions, lithium ion has even stronger advantages?
Yes. For lead acid, a partial battery charge depletes the battery much, much faster. Partial charging will decrease battery life to 3 years or less. For lithium ion, it’s not an issue. You only lose as much life longevity as you’ve charged. And for lead-acid, multi-battery needs may cause a customer to invest in two or three lead acid batteries every 4 to 5 years, which isn’t needed for LI.

What is the future of LI batteries?
Economically, their short-to-medium term future is very bright. They are in demand and competitively priced, so lithium ion batteries will grow as an industry.

If we look beyond the next 10 years, there will be more challenges. Lithium is a limited resource, and because it’s also being used by the automotive industry effect, the law of supply and demand will factor into prices.

I think there is room for future innovation in terms of LI battery’s environmental impact. We can say LI is a “green” technology at many stages in its use – from motor to wheel, it’s very environmentally friendly. But it isn’t 100% green yet; most of the electricity production driving it is carbon based.

So are you hopeful for LI-ion batteries in the future?
I see it as a bridge technology. LI-ion is helping us transition to new energies which are still developing as we speak, like fuel-cell hydrogen based energy, which holds so much promise. For now, I am confident that LI-ion is going to have a big efficiency and productivity impact that supports business needs while we keep innovating and moving forward towards even better technology.

ASAP Rental is your strategic partner in Asia for renting, organizing and managing Smart handling fleets. ASAP’s IoT platform allows active monitoring and rich performance data that can simultaneously assess whole fleets and individual drivers, down to the minute.

ASAP provides a full menu of options for optimizing your handling fleet and equipment. If tracking and servicing your fleet has become a time-consuming headache, ASAP is ready and able to partner with you, taking on the full weight of fleet management so you can better pursue core business goals.