As energy and facility managers, the decision between lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen fuel cells for powering forklifts is pivotal. This cost analysis aims to provide a clear comparison to inform your choices for a more efficient and productive warehouse operation.

See the bottom of this article for a calculator that will assist you to make a financial comparison between lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.

Compare lithium-ion to hydrogen fuel cells for forklifts
Compare lithium-ion to hydrogen fuel cells for forklifts

Initial Investment and Infrastructure – Charging vs H2 storage

Lithium-ion batteries benefit from lower initial costs and minimal infrastructure changes. They utilize existing electrical grids, making them a cost-effective choice for many facilities. In contrast, hydrogen fuel cells require a significant upfront investment in refueling infrastructure, which can be a barrier for some operations.

Operational Costs

When evaluating operational expenses, lithium-ion batteries offer savings through reduced electricity costs over time. Hydrogen fuel cells, while capable of rapid refueling, come with higher fuel costs that can accumulate, impacting the long-term financial outlook.

Maintenance and Durability – Lithium-ion Batteries and Hydrogen Fuel Cells

The maintenance demands of lithium-ion batteries are generally lower than those of hydrogen fuel cells, translating into cost savings and less downtime. Fuel cells, however, boast fewer moving parts, which can mean fewer mechanical issues over time.

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is a critical factor in the cost equation. Lithium-ion batteries have made significant strides in efficiency, offering a reliable power source for extended periods. Hydrogen fuel cells have an energy efficiency of around 60%, with a higher energy cost per operating hour.

Environmental Impact

Both technologies present a greener alternative to traditional power sources, but they have different environmental footprints. Lithium-ion batteries leverage the existing electrical infrastructure, while hydrogen fuel cells require the production and transport of hydrogen, which can add to their environmental and financial costs.

Lifecycle and Replacement Costs – Lithium-ion Batteries and Hydrogen Fuel Cells

The lifecycle cost analysis shows that lithium-ion batteries often have a lower total cost of ownership due to price reductions and longevity. Hydrogen fuel cells may have higher replacement and recycling costs, influencing the overall economic assessment.

Thermal Management in Energy Systems for Forklifts – Lithium-ion Batteries and Hydrogen Fuel Cells

One of the challenges faced by lithium-ion batteries in forklift applications is the heat build-up during their charge and discharge cycles. Excessive heat can prevent these batteries from efficiently receiving a charge when they are plugged in, particularly if they have not adequately cooled down after use. In contrast, hydrogen fuel cells are equipped with a radiator system that actively dissipates heat, maintaining an optimal temperature for operation. This thermal management capability not only enhances the reliability of fuel cells but also ensures consistent performance throughout a forklift’s duty cycle. For facilities focused on maintaining continuous workflows, the advanced heat regulation of hydrogen fuel cells can be a decisive factor in energy system selection.

Investment Tax Credits for Hydrogen Fuel Cells

For energy and facility managers considering the adoption of hydrogen fuel cells for forklift operations, it’s important to note the availability of Investment Tax Credits (ITC). The Inflation Reduction Act has introduced significant incentives for clean energy technologies, which includes hydrogen fuel cells. Facilities that transition to hydrogen fuel cells can benefit from a 30% tax credit under Section 48 of the Internal Revenue Code. This credit is applicable for projects that begin construction by 2024 and is part of a broader effort to encourage sustainable energy practices in the industry. With the potential to reduce both carbon footprint and operational costs, the ITC for hydrogen fuel cells presents a compelling financial advantage for businesses looking to invest in cleaner, more efficient technologies.

Power Company Delays and Energy Solutions for Forklifts

As distribution centers scale up operations to meet increasing demands, the need for reliable and scalable energy solutions becomes critical. However, delays by power companies in upgrading infrastructure or providing additional power supplies can significantly impede the implementation of lithium-ion battery charging stations. These delays can lead to a bottleneck in operations, as the charging infrastructure becomes a limiting factor in the deployment of electric forklift fleets. Consequently, companies are compelled to explore alternative energy sources that can be deployed more rapidly. Hydrogen fuel cells emerge as a viable solution in this scenario, offering a quicker set-up time without the extensive electrical upgrades required for battery charging systems. The ability to circumvent power supply constraints with hydrogen fuel cells can be a strategic advantage for companies looking to maintain momentum in their operations.


In considering the switch to alternative energy sources for forklift operations, energy and facility managers must weigh the long-term cost implications, infrastructure requirements, and operational efficiency. While lithium-ion batteries offer a familiar technology, the challenges of heat management and power supply delays present significant hurdles. On the other hand, hydrogen fuel cells, bolstered by investment tax credits and superior thermal management, provide a robust solution that can be rapidly implemented. The choice between these energy sources will ultimately depend on the specific needs and constraints of each facility. To explore how Lean Inc. can assist in optimizing your energy solutions for material handling, contact us and learn more about our products and services.

Calculate Which Power System Is Best for Your Operation: Lithium-ion or Hydrogen

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