Materials Handling Industry

What is a Traction Battery?

What is a traction battery?

Forklift OPerator
Traction Batteries for Forklifts

Dr Mike explains what features are required to be the best battery for traction battery suppliers to make 2V lead acid traction battery cells for fork lift trucks. He also gives valuable advice on how to choose the best forklift battery for your particular requirements, be it a 12 volt forklift battery or a 48v battery for battery powered forklifts. Dr Mike is the CTO of Microtex, one of the leading battery companies in India. Microtex is an established battery brand in India & figures in the list of electric vehicle battery manufacturers in India.

What is a traction battery?

According to European standard IEC 60254 – 1 lead acid traction batteries are used as power sources for electric propulsion in applications which include road vehicles, locomotives, industrial forklift trucks and mechanical handling equipment(MHE). The traction battery pack can be made of 2 volt cells, or 4, 6, 8 and 12V monoblocs (Fig.1). There is no stipulation in the traction battery market on the internal construction of the traction batteries but the external dimensions are defined in standards such as IEC 60254 – 2. The battery capacity is measured over a defined battery discharge test from fully charged to 1.7 volts per cell over a period of 5 hours (C5 test). For guidance on using traction battery charger & how to correctly charge batteries please visit this page.

Traction battery details
Figure 1 Traction 2 volt cells and batteries for fork lift trucks

Traction batteries are comprised of both flooded and VRLA designs, in both 2 volt battery and monobloc battery constructions. In these designs the positive plates can be both flat plate and tubular plate designs. For the AGM variant of the VRLA construction, only flat plate versions are suitable due to the requirement of maintaining a uniform compression of the glass fibre mat used for the separator. Tubular traction battery with tubular positive plate constructions generally give a higher cycle life than the flat plate battery designs. The enclosed tube construction design (Fig 2) ensures that the positive active material is held firmly against the conducting lead alloy spine during the deep discharge cycles in the traction battery.  The life of the traction battery is defined by the number of standard deep charge-discharge cycles which it can perform until it drops to 80% of the rated or nominal capacity.  

The design to specification of traction batteries is critical in providing a long and trouble-free operation in service. In order to achieve this, there are several key aspects of the traction cell construction which ensure that they are able to stand up to the demands of the power battery cycle duty. The key components of the battery are the positive grid alloy, the active material chemistry and the method of separation and plate support. The deep discharge duty requires the traction battery to be recharged over a long period at a high-voltage. This oxidises the positive spine which causes grid growth and eventual failure as the positive conductor becomes completely converted to PbO2. The battery lead alloy therefore should have corrosion resistant properties and also strong enough to resist creep growth. Traction battery manufacturer in India Microtex,  use special lead alloys with its proprietary formula of Antimony, Tin, Copper, Sulphur, Selenium & Arsenic additives, which have been developed over decades of experience to give maximum corrosion resistance & creep resistance for their tubular positive plates used in their traction batteries. 

Similarly, other factors such as the positive & negative active materials structure and their densities are of vital importance in providing the capacity and cycle-life required of lead-acid traction batteries. The tubular positive plates are dry-filled with a unique lead-oxide powder which again has been developed by Microtex over years of experience and laboratory testing. The processes also ensure that the correct, deep-cycle form of lead-dioxide (alpha PbO2) is formed in the positive tubes. Alongside this, the physical construction of the multitube and the internal support provide a space which collects material shed from the plates during battery cycling. This is important as capacity reduction and failure can occur from short circuit damage due to the shed active material creating a conducting bridge between the plates as the battery ages.

Figure 2 Construction of a 2V lead acid cell for forklift trucks

Traction Cell Cross Section
Figure 2 Construction of a 2V lead acid cell for forklift trucks

Component Construction Material Application
Negative Battery Grid Low SB Lead Alloys - Pb/Ca/Sn/Al alloy Standard flooded 2v traction cells - VRLA, Gel & low maintenance battery
Tubular Positive Spine grid Low Sb lead alloy - Pb/Ca/Sn/Al alloys Standard flooded 2v traction cells - VRLA, Gel & low maintenance battery
Positive active material PbO2 dry filled 3.6 - 3.8 gms/cc All types of tubular lead acid 2v cells & batteries
Negative active material Spongy Lead 4.4 gms/cc All types of lead acid 2v tubular cells & battery
Battery Gauntlet Woven & Non woven - Polyester, PET/PBT/PP 2v batteries & cells - lead acid batteries
Battery Separator Polyethylene, Microporous rubber & PVC Battery separators All types of tubular battery, including TGel maintenance free cells
Top strap lead alloy Low SB lead alloy - lead / 2-4% Sn alloy Flooded 2v cells & monoblocs, VRLA 2v cells & monoblocs
Electrolyte 1.29 + - 0.1SG H2So4 liquid
1.29 + - 0.1SG H2So4 Gel/AGM
Standard flooded 2v cells
VRLA 2v cells & monoblocs
Vent cap or vent plug Polypropylene open top plugs
Sealed valve regulated vent plugs
Standard flooded 2v cells
Sealed maintenance free batteries 2v cells & monobloc batteries
Traction Battery Connector Lead plated copper cable all kinds of 2v Battery

So far, we have looked at flooded, 2v battery cells. Due to the nature of their charging and operation, this design invariably requires regular topping up with water.  2v vrla battery designs, either the AGM or GEL variant avoid the maintenance required for topping up the battery. This is important if maintenance standards are poor or expensive due to high distilled water or labour costs. However, there is a shorter cycle life associated with the maintenance free designs, the lowest cycle life being the AGM flat plate construction. As a rule of thumb, a 2-volt battery tubular flooded cell will give around 1600 80% depth of discharge DOD cycles at 25’C. The Tubular GEL and AGM VRLA battery designs will give around 1200 and 800 cycles respectively. For this reason, Microtex recommend that the tubular flooded battery & GEL battery variants should be used for traction battery and electric forklift truck applications.

2. How to choose a lead acid traction battery for your battery operated forklift trucks. The majority of EV traction battery used in the fork lift truck market are 2v traction battery, of which over 90% are the flooded tubular plate battery design. These are generally used for pallet and forklift trucks in multiples of 6 to give 12v forklift battery, 24v traction battery, 36v forklift battery 48v forklift battery or 80v forklift battery packs, with 80 volts breaking the series progression and forming the upper limit for most forklift manufacturing companies. There are standard traction battery container sizes for forklift manufacturers from different countries based on their national standards. The majority of forklifts in India like Nilkamal forklifts, Godrej forklifts, Josts forklifts, Toyota forklifts, Kuon forklifts etc., (Disclaimer – all brands belong to respective companies & Microtex is not part of them) will use a DIN or BS standard size of cell. This determines the external dimensions, pole arrangement and expected capacity (fig. 3). 48v lithium ion battery for forklifts are also making an appearance.

Forklift trucks have battery containers which are standard sizes based on multiples of the appropriate cell dimensions.  These sizes are also regulated and fig. 3 shows cell and container sizes expected for BS and DIN standards. Considerations when choosing a suitable battery go beyond simply choosing the right capacity, which of course is critical. Other factors which influence battery choice include:

  • The make and size of forklift
  • Length of operation
  • Application
  • Location
  • Maintenance resources

They will take the details necessary to calculate the size, capacity and type of battery that will fulfil all of your technical and economic requirements. Why take the risk of doing it yourself? 

As a traction battery manufacturer in India here are some common questions our forklift battery customers ask us:

  • Why do forklift batteries explode?

Forklift batteries that are not well maintained can run in to unexpected problems. If the cells are not watered regularly, there is a chance of the electrolyte completely drying up below the busbar. If the plates are not immersed inside the electrolyte, during charging there is a high risk of the separator getting burnt out due to the intense heat generated in the absence of electrolyte. This leads to the positive & negative electrodes to short which will spark. During the process of charging nascent hydrogen is evolved which is an explosive gas. The sparks will ignite the gas leading to an explosion of the accumulated gases. Always ensure there is sufficient electrolyte level in each cell to avoid explosion of a traction battery.

  • How much sulphuric acid in a forklift battery?

Forklift batteries are supplied factory charged with sulphuric acid usually of 1.280 specific gravity. The level of sulphuric acid inside the battery is usually 40mm above the separator guard. The sulphuric acid is the electrolyte in the cell and forms what is generally referred to as the third active material. The other two are the Positive active material & the Negative active material. Purity of the sulphuric acid plays an important role in the life & performance of the battery. Each forklift battery has a specific design volume of sulphuric acid usually forming 10 to 14 cc per ah of battery capacity. It is very important that the end user does not add any further acid to the battery. Only demineralised water shall be used for topping up of the cells. Care should be taken to ensure not to overfill the cells as the spill will be acidic & corrode the steel tray, causing ground shorts & damage to costly electronics in the modern forklifts.

  • When charging forklift batteries, what steps to be followed?

When charging forklift batteries, it is very important to follow the instructions in the operating manual of the forklift & the battery user manual. General safety precautions require that you use personal protective equipment like, full shield eye goggles, rubber gloves, & nose mask. Remove all loose fitting metallic ornaments like bangles or necklaces to avoid any accidental shorting. First open all the vent plugs to avoid building up of pressure from charging gases. Check the electrolyte level in each cell, if found less, top up with demineralised water, with care not to overfill. Then connect the charger plug to the battery socket. Take readings of the cell voltages & specific gravity of all the cells at the start of the charging. Record the same in the charging record (usually supplied by the manufacturer; get in touch with us if you don’t have it readily). Charge it completely for the recommended duration of 8 to 10 hours depending on the state of charge or as recommended by the traction battery manufacturer. Before disconnecting the charger, take final readings of the gravity to ensure it has been fully charged. Record the gravity.

You can get the traction battery pdf here which is a guide to usage & maintenance of traction batteries in a forklift & the traction battery catalogue is available here

Get in touch with Microtex. Trust in the experience and knowledge of the Microtex technical team and let them do the hard work. If you are based in India, our friendly service engineers will be happy to visit you & evaluate your needs.

Dr Mike McDonagh - CTO - Microtex

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