Forklift Engine Types Explained: Electric and Internal Combustion Engines

Industrial forklifts are divided into two categories, electric and internal combustion engine (IC).


Industrial forklifts are divided into two categories, electric and internal combustion engine (IC). The type of forklift engine determines how the forklift operates, where it can be used (indoor or outdoor), load capacity and overall performance.

Electric forklifts are powered by lead-acid batteries: buffer tire forklifts, scissor lifts, pickers, stackers, reach trucks and pallet jacks. Electric forklifts are mainly used indoors on flat, flat surfaces.

The initial cost of an electric forklift tends to be higher than most IC forklifts, but its annual fuel and maintenance costs decrease over time. Electric forklift batteries last for 6 hours or with 2-3 breaks during an 8 hour shift. The power of the battery determines the strength of the lift: a fully charged Stand Up Forklift operates at maximum capacity, while low power reduces its performance. Warehouses and distribution centers that use electricity continuously for more than 7 hours have an extra charged battery on hand. While electrical devices are easier to maintain than ICs, they are not recommended for continuous use with shipping loads exceeding 15,000 lbs. Batteries prevent the emission of harmful fumes and are recommended for facilities in the food processing and healthcare sectors.

Internal combustion forklifts are powered by fossil fuels such as natural gas, propane and diesel. There are several types of IC forklifts: pneumatic tire forklifts, rough terrain, scissor lifts, telehandlers and jib lifts. IC forklifts are mainly used for outdoor applications.

Compared to an electric forklift, the fuel of an internal combustion forklift powers the elevator for longer (one LP tank = 8 hours continuously) and can be refueled in less than 10 minutes. IC forklifts are more powerful than electric forklifts, but they emit noxious fumes, such as carbon monoxide, that are not suitable for indoor applications. However, LP forklifts can be used in well-ventilated rooms with larger aisle dimensions. For high-capacity loads over 20,000 pounds, IC forklifts perform better than electric forklifts. Although the initial cost of internal combustion forklifts is lower than that of electric forklifts, these forklifts require more routine maintenance and higher fuel prices.

With soaring gasoline prices and the "Go Green" movement, forklift brands such as Toyota, Mitsubishi, Linde and Yale are developing fuel alternatives to create "green forklifts" to reduce the carbon footprint of the industrial sector. The development of natural gas and hydrogen fuel cells has been their main focus for the past three years.