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Forwarding Sustainable Power Sources

MHI’s newest industry group takes on alternative power sources for motive material handling

Contributor: MHI’s Advanced Energy Council (AEC)

As countries, states and individual companies look to the future, sustainability is rising to the top as a core value. Alternate energy solutions are essential to reducing carbon footprints across supply chains, and most industries are stepping up to do their part. This includes the material handling industry, which is tackling sustainability in a variety of manners.

Within the Material Handling Industry (MHI) trade organization, one of the newest efforts in that regard is the Advanced Energy Council (AEC). Newly formed at the end of 2022, the group is just getting off the ground. But new doesn’t mean AEC is without big ambitions—it’s setting its mission “to uplift and promote the safe use and adoption of advanced energy technologies in motive material handling applications.”

According to Robin Schneider, director of marketing at Green Cubes Technology, a founding member of the group, AEC is answering the call to forward the use of replacing diesel and propane engines with zero-emissions engines, and replacing ineffective lead-acid with advanced lithium batteries. “We’re really looking at a sea change in how motive material handling equipment is powered,” she explains. “This mirrors the surge in electric vehicles, buses and industrial trucks across the board, and we are focusing on better energies to power new generations of equipment and retrofitting of legacy lift trucks in the field”

To date, there are 18 member companies participating in AEC, and the group hopes to eventually grow that number closer to 25 or 30 companies. They represent a wide host of suppliers, from a diverse set of categories. They include battery manufacturers; charger/accessory manufacturers; equipment OEMS such as AMRs/AGVS; forklifts, carts, and aerial equipment; battery suppliers; consultants; service companies, and academia.

Maxim Khabur, marketing director at OneCharge, a lithium battery maker, is also a founding member and will serve as chair of the council. “When we pitched this idea to MHI, it was because there was no official body to represent this part of the industry,” he says. “We needed a common voice for the battery, charger and fuel-cell companies that supply the material handling industry.”

Setting goals and standards

As with anything, change is hard, so one of the goals of AEC will be to help the material handling industry move forward with the times. That means helping push the needle when it comes to accepting modern engines and batteries. “Change will always face resistance, even when it’s the change for the better,” says Khabur. “Even when new batteries make the lives of forklift operators better and easier, they’re going to push back a bit.”

That’s where AEC can come in and help educate the industry, eventually leading to better acceptance of the changes at hand. The group will serve to educate, set standards, develop common terminology, and exchange ideas for wider implementation.

“Advanced battery and engine solutions are not just better for the environment, but also safer and more affordable,” says Schneider. “But there’s a lack of that understanding, which is where AEC will come into play.”

Schneider says she is encouraged, however, that understanding is growing when it comes to batteries. “When I first started in the material handling industry, I had to explain the value in lithium ion over lead acid, for instance,” she says. “Now, people are understanding the value proposition.”

That value includes lower maintenance, which means companies who adopt lithium-ion batteries can let go of battery rooms and gain valuable warehouse space, for instance. It also includes safety—with lithium-ion batteries, operators don’t need to lift heavy lead batteries in and out of trucks, can avoid splatters and spills, and lower injury rates. When manufacturers explain this, end users can get on board.

Khabur says that AEC’s messaging will help bring understanding around these issues and more. “There are myths and misconceptions surrounding advanced lithium batteries,” he says. “With a common, unified voice, we can break through that.”

AEC’s focus on standards will also make a difference. “Different forklift OEMs have different standards for the integration of modern batteries,” he says. “We need an approach that will integrate batteries with OEM trucks and have it all fit together.”

The group will also be keeping an eye on legislation coming down the pike and help keep the industry informed. States like California, for instance, are already focusing on eliminating internal combustion engines from industrial trucks. AEC will be able to disseminate these coming laws to its members and their end customers.

To date, AEC has met twice and plans to gather again at MHI’s spring meeting in Charlotte, NC. Expect a growing number of members and information as the group gets off the ground and meets regularly.

For now, however, member companies are expressing optimism about how AEC can help the industry evolve and become more sustainable. “We need to talk to each other, and this is a good starting place,” says Khabur. “We’re creating a voice and a space to work together and form joint opinions on important matters.”

About AEC

Current AEC members include Concentric, LLC, Conductix-Wampfler, Crown Battery Manufacturing Company, Inc., Crown Equipment Corporation, East Penn Manufacturing Co, Inc., Electrovaya, Enatel, Enersys, Ethium by EControls, Flux Power, Green Cubes Technology, Hyster-Yale Group, Inc., OneCharge Inc., The Raymond Corporation, Toyota Material Handling, TWS Technology, UgoWork, and Wiferion North America Inc.

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