History of Propane Powered Forklifts

Posted by Gavin W

Forklifts are a staple and an indispensable piece of equipment in manufacturing and warehousing operations, and they have been around for longer than most would suspect. Forklifts have been around for almost a century. In 1917, Clark Material Handling Company began developing and using powered tractors and powered lift tractors in their factories. Following suit, in 1920, Yale & Towne Manufacturing entered the lift truck market. Forklifts continued to be further developed and expanded through the 1930s, which also brought along the integration of the standardized pallet. The start of World War II spurred the use of forklift trucks. Following the war, more efficient and easier methods of storing products in warehouses was implemented.

The propane forklift was first utilized in the 1950s. The forklifts were powered by the “standard” size industrial cylinder. This cylinder was conceived by determining the amount of fuel needed to power a forklift for an entire eight-hour shift. The 33-pound cylinder, a workhorse for industry, was designed for a four-cylinder forklift. The 43-pound cylinder will power a larger, six-cylinder forklift for an eight-hour shift.

The standard industrial cylinder was upgraded to a three-piece steel cylinder with the DOT designation of 4BW-240 in the 1960s. Most industrial cylinders were made of steel until the introduction of the DOT 4BE-240 aluminum cylinder in the early 1970s, and when forklift users began using the lighter materials. The difference in weight was dramatic- the average empty weight of a 33-pound cylinder went from about 42 pounds to 22 pounds.

During the 1990s exhaust emissions from forklift operations began to be addressed which led to emission standards being implemented for forklift manufacturers. Propane powered forklifts became even more desirable, because propane produces such minuscule emissions. The Propane Education and Research Council (PERC) announced in 2004 that initial test results of propane fuel control systems being tested at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) were able to meet 2007 EPA standards for both steady-state and transient operating conditions. According to PERC’s former executive director of the Propane Vehicle Council, Brian Feehan, “In order to meet 2007 standards, forklift engines must perform an order of magnitude better than current systems. These research results are important in that they demonstrate that inexpensive fuel systems available today can achieve these new standards by using newer high-tech controllers, ensuring that propane can remain a clean and cost-effective fuel for forklifts.”

To learn more about how propane-fueled forklifts can enhance your business, please contact us here and we will put you in touch with a dedicated account manager for assistance.

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