Komatsu Starts PoC Tests for Sodium-Ion Battery Forklifts

Komatsu has developed a concept machine for an electric forklift powered by sodium-ion batteries and has started Proof-of-Concept (PoC) tests at customer worksites in March 2024.

Image: courtesy of Komatsu

This marks Komatsu’s inaugural venture into equipping machines with sodium-ion batteries and it is also a pioneering effort in the world to install them on forklifts. The forthcoming site trials aim to validate the optimal usage based on the new battery’s performance and its unique characteristics, with an eye toward future commercial production.

Komatsu has long been advancing product electrification based on the needs of customers’ actual worksites, offering not only electric forklifts powered by standard batteries but also models featuring maintenance-free lead-acid batteries and those equipped with lithium-ion batteries for extended, heavy-load operations. Despite these advancements, electrification faces challenges, especially in worksites with shortened, light-load operations, where the high initial costs often lead to the selection of engine-driven forklifts due to the high initial costs of electric models.

Similar to lithium batteries, sodium-ion batteries are rechargeable but they use sodium ions as charge carriers instead of lithium ions. Sodium, which is abundant in nature, represents a stable supply, and its low production costs are a significant advantage. Sodium-ion batteries are also considered to be safer as their elements are less toxic compared to those of lithium batteries.

These newly equipped sodium-ion batteries, despite their lower energy density, support rapid charging, enabling continuous operation through frequent recharges. Their long cycle life (the number of times the battery can be repeatedly charged and discharged) also prolongs the interval before battery replacement becomes necessary, offering the potential to reduce running costs.

Image: courtesy of Komatsu

Based on these unique characteristics of sodium-ion batteries, Komatsu has developed this concept machine to provide an appropriate option for worksites with shortened, light-load operations. The concept machine is equipped with a sodium-ion battery pack developed by Shanghai Hirano Environment Technology Co. using sodium-ion battery cells manufactured by Jiangsu Highstar Battery Manufacturing Co. and is designed for Komatsu’s 1.5-ton class electric forklifts. Expanding the range of electric forklifts will accelerate the electrification of all types of worksites, aiding in the reduction of environmental impacts and the achievement of carbon neutrality.'
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