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4 Reasons Propane is a Proven Fuel for Forklifts

One fuel source, many jobs

By Jeremy Wishart

Propane has powered forklifts for decades.  During that time, the fuel has proven that, no matter the job or location, propane forklifts provide reliable, consistent performance in a wide variety of material handling operations.

The fuel not only has a strong track record, but is continually a major player in the capacities that keep American goods and freight moving. In fact, 70% of fleet managers in the 5,000-10,000lbs capacity forklifts and 51% of fleet managers in the 10,000lbs or more capacities opt for propane over gas or diesel.

Here are four reasons why propane remains a favorite fuel for material handling operations:

  1. Propane forklifts require minimal downtime for refueling.

Whether in large operations or smaller fleets, propane provides the quick refueling necessary to keep material moving. Swapping out an empty propane cylinder for a full one takes just a few moments, and eliminates the need for additional expensive, heavy batteries or downtime spent recharging. Companies can also work with a propane retailer to ensure propane cylinder cages are always full by setting up a tailored refueling schedule.

Propane-powered forklifts also provide 100% power throughout operation, pushing heavy loads at full capacity faster and longer than electric forklifts. One cylinder typically covers an entire eight-hour shift. In addition, propane forklifts maintain more consistent travel speeds and acceleration throughout a shift compared to battery-powered forklifts, according to data from PERC. These benefits provided by propane forklifts allow employees to make the most of their workday, increasing productivity and efficiency on a daily basis.

  1. Propane provides the versatility to work indoors or out.

Most forklift users operate their forklifts both indoors and outdoors, according to a survey conducted by the Propane Education & Research Council. Many businesses actually choose propane for its low-emissions indoor performance. In fact, well-maintained propane forklifts meet or exceed nationwide indoor air quality standards, while gasoline and diesel models produce higher amounts of carbon monoxide and other harmful emissions. As long as the engines are properly serviced and they’re operating in a well-ventilated environment, propane forklifts are perfectly suited to operate indoors.

Propane-powered forklifts can also be used in temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit and are rated completely waterproof and safe for outdoor use. Further, propane forklifts are available in all weight classes to match the job at hand. Electric forklifts, on the other hand, may not be up to the task to carry the weight of large jobs, and diesel isn’t fit for small tasks.

  1. Propane has lower emissions.

For businesses interested in operating with lower emissions, propane is the best choice. A comparative emissions analysis of forklifts conducted by PERC, in partnership with the Gas Technology Institute, found that although electric forklifts produce no emissions during operation, their full-cycle emissions profile is not so clean. Using propane forklifts can reduce SOx emissions by 76% compared to electric when you take in total site-to-source emissions. Site-to-source emissions include those produced in the manufacturing and transportation of batteries for electric forklifts. When compared with gasoline, propane was found to produce 15%  fewer SOx emissions, 17% fewer NOx emissions, and 16% fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

  1. Propane has no hidden costs.

Compared to diesel and electric forklifts, propane can provide savings throughout ownership. Propane forklifts are less expensive at acquisition than electric, and Tier-4 requirements can add thousands of dollars to the purchase price of diesel equipment. According to data from PERC, the capital cost of a propane forklift is almost 30% lower than the purchase price of an electric forklift. With electric models, it’s important not to overlook the utlity costs of keeping them charged, too. Battery life and power output for electric forklifts also diminish over time and lead to future costs that can go overlooked, including additional costly batteries.

In contrast, an investment in propane cylinders and storage cages can last decades. Beyond the initial equipment purchase and cost of fuel, companies are only responsible for buying and storing the cylinders, which can last up to three times as long as the average forklift battery.

Professionals in the material handling industry trust propane forklifts to get the job done the first time — all while keeping costs in check, providing long-term productivity and performance, and reducing emissions. For more information on propane forklifts, or to find a local propane supplier, visit

Jeremy Wishart is Director of off-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at

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