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How does a Propane Forklift Work

Shrinivas Kanade
Seeing a propane forklift in action is a common sight in a warehouse. They somehow manage to carry heavy weight at one end without tipping over. To know about how these amazing machines work, read on.
There are many types of forklifts available in the market, that depend on various factors. According to the type of fuel used, they can be classified in to those that use:
  • Gasoline
  • Diesel
  • Electricity
  • Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)
  • Liquid Propane Gas (LPG)
Each of these come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. In the following paragraphs we talk more about propane forklifts, or forklifts that use LPG engines, and how they work.

Why use Propane in Forklifts?

The propane forklift has on-board tanks in which propane is stored. These tanks contain enough propane gas to last 8 hours, and when empty, can be easily removed, replaced or refilled.
On the other hand, in case of CNG-powered forklifts replenishing CNG consumes time. LPG-powered engines operate at a lower temperature than CNG.
In case of electric-powered forklifts, it is necessary to let the batteries cool and then recharge, which can take about 8 to 9 hours. Charged batteries last only for 3 to 6 hours, depending upon its use. A 33 lb. steel tank can hold 8 gallons of propane, enough to carry out the job at hand.

Working of a Propane Forklift

A forklift carries load on its forks that are located in front of the carrier and which point outwards. This load may obstruct the driver's field of vision. For this reason, wheels at the rear control the steering of the forklift, thus enabling the forklift to be driven backward while carrying loads.
The front wheels bear the burden of the load. Two forks stick out from the front of the forklift. These forks can be raised and lowered, and it is possible to tilt them downward or upward, as per the requirement. A hydraulic cylinder is responsible for these movements.
A bar is fitted with roller chains; one end of which is attached to a frame, while the other end to a fork. The pressure applied by the hydraulic cylinder on the bar pulls or slackens the roller chains, which results in the fork's movements.
When a forklift is loaded, the front wheels bear the weight. The weight of the fork itself is supported by the counterweight on-board, which keeps the fork balanced.

Propane Forklift Safety

While working indoors, a forklift is operated using solid rubber tires, which are also called cushioned tires. Pneumatic tires are used for outdoor use. They can be used on asphalt, dirt roads, and generally, for heavy loads.
Propane-powered equipment are trusted to be safe. And, it is believed that propane is a clean burning fuel. But, what if the equipment or the engine is not properly tuned or maintained.
Like all internal combustion engines, propane powered engines emit carbon monoxide (CO) and corrosive oxides of nitrogen. These gases can be very harmful in confined and improperly ventilated spaces.
Propane forklifts emit less harmful gases than diesel and gasoline powered forklifts. Propane has a simple chemical structure, and being a gas it mixes well with air as compared to diesel or gasoline, and also burns at a low temperature.
Corrosive oxides of nitrogen produced during combustion of propane in the engine are less than those emitted by a gasoline or diesel engine. The engine lasts longer than that of a gasoline or diesel powered forklift engine.
In an internal combustion engine, air is sucked into it from the surrounding area and is used to burn the fuel. A 60 hp forklift breathes in 5000 cubic feet of air per minute to operate. It is advised to switch it on and warm it outdoors, because emissions of carbon monoxide by a cold propane-powered engine/equipment is higher than that when it is warm.
Electric (battery)-powered forklifts cannot be used in the rain for fear of damage to batteries. An electric forklift can short out due to rainwater. Propane is stored in on-board well-sealed tanks. So, there is no chance of rainwater getting in the tanks and disrupting the work.
Propane forklifts are versatile as they can be used indoors and outdoors. Gasoline and diesel-powered forklifts may suffocate you with harmful gases if they are used indoors.