Lithium Forklift Trucks – Lead Acid vs Lithium

Forklifts are an essential tool for businesses that require heavy lifting and the movement of goods within the logistics, manufacturing and warehousing sectors, relying heavily on them in their day to day business. With a future that is looking ever more at sustainable solutions, how is the forklift industry keeping up? One way is with the Lithium-ion forklift truck, which is powered by a lithium-ion battery.

This new battery technology has brought with it a new generation of forklifts which offer a wide range of benefits over the traditional lead acid battery and even diesel and LPG forklift trucks. So what are the differences between lithium-ion and lead acid battery forklift trucks and how does the technology differ?

The very first commercial lithium-ion battery was used in 1991, however, when it comes to forklifts lithium-ion batteries have only been around for 12 years. Lead acid is the old tried and tested system, dating all the way back to the early 1920s. Whilst they are much older in design and technology, lead acid batteries have had some major updates over the years and are still a very sound option for certain applications, as you’ll see below.

Lead-Acid forklift batteries are rechargeable batteries that have a high power-to-weight ratio and are sought after due to their lower cost. They are known as motive batteries

What most people don’t think of is the sheer size and weight of lead-acid batteries. The average forklift battery can weigh between 400 to 2,000 kgs. Despite this, one of the benefits of the lead-acid battery is actually its weight! When lifting heavy objects to heights of 15m they need something to help balance the weight. In this case a lead acid battery acts as a counterbalance and keeps the forklift from tipping over when lifting heavy loads.

Lithium-Ion forklift batteries are rechargeable lithium and graphite batteries with a very high energy density, low discharge rate and no memory loss. While lithium is a much lighter material, these batteries still weigh between 250 and 1,250 kgs. This lighter battery technology means less weight that your forklift is carrying, so sometimes you’ll even see a metal plate or additional ballast to help provide additional weight to keep the forklift from tilting when carrying heavy loads.

There are some pros and cons to each of these battery types, however we’ll look at 4 x key areas to help you to reach a conclusion on which is best for your application.

Increased Productivity

Lead-Acid Batteries

To keep it short and simple, lead-acid batteries require more maintenance. Lead-acid batteries require topping with distilled water which fills the individual cells in your battery to provide a functional level of chemicals and electrolytes that will produce power. This requires regular checking, even if you run a one-shift application your battery will probably need to be topped up once a week or at the very least every other week. There are automatic topping systems which help the operator to complete this task more efficiently and safely, however this requires special equipment and the right level of care, because if you top up the water too much or too little you could damage your battery.

Lithium-Ion Batteries

The maintenance is zero. Lithium-ion batteries could save you hundreds, maybe even thousands of pounds because they do not require the most expensive maintenance element ………topping up and the labour to carry out this task which increases productivity and gives more run time per shift.

Naturally both batteries need regular checks in terms of wear to plugs & cables, monitoring the charger for faults and making sure the battery and charger software is up to date.

Lower Total Cost of Ownership

Lead-Acid Batteries

If you take care of your battery you will get around 1,500 charge cycles. This equates to about 5 years if you charge the battery once per day, however the problem arises when you have a 2 or 3-shift application. In these cases you will need at least one battery per truck sometimes two per truck because the minimum charge time will take 8 hours and then you will need an additional 8 hours for the cool down period.

The chart below gives you a clearer understanding of the charging requirements and usage for both battery types:

Use Time  8 Hours 8 Hours
Charge Time  8 Hours 1-4 Hours
Cooling Time  8 Hours 0 Hours
Total Time Needed Before Use 16 Hours 1-4 Hours


Lithium-Ion Batteries

As you can see from the above chart lithium-ion can be 4 – 16 x more productive when it comes to charging production with the added advantage that Lithium-ion batteries typically last between 2,000 – 3,000 charging cycles, which is almost double of what you can expect with a lead-acid battery, lowering your total cost of ownership when combined with their zero maintenance.

Energy Usage

Finding the battery that is more efficient and cheaper on utilities can save thousands on energy costs.

Lead-Acid Batteries

Lead-acid batteries are generally not good at keeping their energy efficiency. They lose amps while moving, charging, lifting and idling, meaning, as the operator uses the forklift truck throughout their shift the battery will become weaker and weaker as the battery level reduces.

Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries keep a constant voltage level during their discharge cycle. This can equal 50% savings in energy compared to lead-acid and unlike the lead-acid batteries, lithium-ion gives users the chance to use opportunity charging between shifts or even during break times. This is a huge advantage as the need for a second or even third battery on 2 or 3 shift applications is no longer required which frees up space in your charging bay. Typically with lead-acid batteries you will need additional storage space in the charging bay for the extra batteries which are required for 2-3 shift operations. This is a major advantage because now you can take that dedicated charging space and restructure it to be additional storage space.

Suitability for a Wide Range of Applications and Industries

It’s often thought that Lithium-ion powered forklifts can’t keep up with the power of lead-acid battery, LPG or diesel trucks, however the new generation of li-ion battery powered forklifts are proving that this isn’t the case. The latest models are available in compact 3 & 4 wheel warehouse options as well as 4 wheel outdoor models with larger chassis’, higher ground clearances and larger diameter wheels comparable to the chassis and wheel diameters fitted to LPG and diesel models. Whatever you need to achieve for your business, li-ion forklifts can provide the power to get it done.

Li-ion forklifts are suitable for a variety of industries, including warehouses, distribution centers, manufacturing facilities, and retail stores. They are especially beneficial for businesses that operate multiple shifts or require frequent forklift use because of their fast-charging times and longer runtime.


Every year new technology and innovations are introduced to the industry, some with small gains and some with huge gains in performance and reliability for a customer’s operation. When it comes to Lithium-Ion, there is no doubt that it’s is the better, more reliable, more efficient, and bigger bang for your buck option. However, this is only an obvious choice if you are running a 2 or 3 shift application with a few forklift trucks.

If you have a warehouse with only a couple of forklifts and a few pallet trucks that are not used around the clock or used in high intensity applications, then you may be better off using lead-acid battery forklift trucks with a lower initial capital cost. However, when it comes to maintenance, charge rate, charging capacity, degradation, lifespan, safety and total cost of ownership, Lithium-ion batteries are the most cost-effective choice.

At Fork Truck Direct, we are pleased to be able to offer a wide range of Lithium-Ion and Lead Acid battery forklift trucks to suit our customers exact requirements. It’s great to see how these new technologies add value for our customers which ensures that we can continue to offer real tangible improvements and innovations for the long-term efficiency, productivity and reliability of their operations for many years to come.

If you would like to chat to our friendly team about your options, please do get in touch.