California-based Flux Power is marketing its lithium ion batteries to the beverage industry in an attempt the break the decades-old stranglehold lead acid has on battery packs supplied for forklifts or walkie pallet trucks working in distribution and warehousing.
Lithium batteries are ubiquitous in everything from cameras to Kindles, but Flux insists that until now the technology has not been optimized for more powerful industrial vehicle needs; the company was founded in 2009 and is well-known in the industry, but only last year chose to really focus on the lift equipment market.
Asked about recent beverage industry interest in the company’s technology, CEO Ron Dutt (whose career includes time at DHL, Ford and Visa) told BeverageDaily.com: “They’ve purchased packs from us, have very serious interest with a number of national chains and beverage companies from beer to soda.”
Longer run times and no acid spills
“They’re very excited, but are proving it in their operations before converting their whole fleets to this,” he said, noting that the beverage industry is the most enthusiastic about Flux Power’s products.
Explaining the benefits that Flux Power’s batteries can bring the industry – they use lithium iron phosphate chemistry – Dutt cited 25% longer run times.
“That’s real important to people who use lift trucks in beverage warehouses – they can do two shifts rather than one,” he said.
“You put it on the beverage truck, it makes 7-10 stops during the day and they don’t have to recharge our battery for 4-5 days. They love that, it saves them charges and doesn’t spill acid or smell,” Dutt added.
“Lithium iron phosphate batteries don’t spill acid like lead acid batteries – workers spill that on their clothes and shoes and it stinks,” he said.
Forget exploding laptops! Flux insists there's no risk of thermal runaway
He also offers assurances that Flux Power’s batteries are safe. Remember those stories about exploding Dell laptop batteries – prompting a mass recall in 2006 – or recent problems with packs on the Boeing 787?
Dell’s batteries used lithium-cobalt-oxide chemistry, and despite a lighter weight versus lithium iron phosphate, these are prone to thermal runaway at higher energy density levels.
“Lithium iron phosphate is a little heavier, but is cheaper to produce and doesn’t have the thermal runaway properties. With these different chemistries you’ve got to find the right one for the right use,” Dutt said.
He admits that the corporate world is a nickel-and-dime business where the bottom line counts, so Flux Power has to show that lithium ion batteries cost less than its lead acid rivals – despite costing more upfront.
“The guys who do the purchasing at corporate or in regional centers – it’s a nickel dime business for them in the beverage industry, the margins are tight, especially for mature companies.”
“It’s like when I was at Ford, if you can get payback within a year, you go ahead and do it. I think there’s a similar mentality there, and we’ve got something here that lowers costs."
Targeting the 'mother load' of batteries in major companies
“The dollar savings and cost of ownership depend on the use, since you get so many charges and discharges for both lead acid and lithium batteries. But on an apples-to-apples comparison lithium will last 2-3 times longer, which is a big deal,” he said.
“Depending on use, we can show customers that our lithium-ion batteries are 40-75% cheaper over their lifetime,” he said, adding that Flux Power’s five-year guarantee is also attracting custom.
Dutt is unsure whether lithium ion technology will replace all lead acid batteries, but said Flux Power is targeting the “mother load of all the larger companies” and has packs on trial with national accounts.
They can’t stand lead acid; they use their batteries a lot and they see big savings and productivity advantages,” he said, adding that trials were going well and Flux anticipates larger orders from companies and a phased replacement of lead acid in their fleets.
“Bigger companies are forecasting out five years, looking at the all-in cost, not just the purchase price. So our sales pitch is much easier to them than to smaller companies,” Dutt said.