Reaching Tier 4: Forklift Trucks Meet Cleaner, Stricter Emission Standards

Within the past 5 years or so, the concept of reducing emissions has been the automotive industry’s most popular issue. It’s all over their commercials, boasting fuel economy and environmental friendliness. Though less advertised, non-road diesel engines, including forklift trucks, are no exception. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working since 1996 on a 4-tiered program to greatly reduce emission pollutants and sulfur content in fuel.


From 1996 until last year, non-road diesel engines have complied with lenient emission standards and still accounted for 44 percent of diesel particulate matter (PM) emissions and 12 percent of total nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, an excessively large amount of total emissions from mobile sources. So in January of 2008, the EPA put the 4th tier into effect. The new standards involve models built in 2008 and later and aim to reduce 90% of NOx and PM emissions, in comparison to unregulated engines. They are also reducing sulfur in fuel to 15-ppm.


These strict new emission standards have understandably generated some concern by forklift truck manufacturers and users. The proposed time frame might seem daunting and unattainable, and many are worried that the added cost would push the price of new equipment too high, taking into account the plummeting economy. Since models made before 2008 do not have to adhere to the EPA’s emission standards, engine manufacturers assume their customers would repair their old equipment instead of purchasing models made after 2008.


Although these changes are drastic, there are a surprising amount of benefits to following these new standards. Manufacturers of non road diesel engines will have plenty of time to adapt. Small refineries will have 3 to 4 years more to meet the new requirements. The EPA even provides incentives for companies that meet the standards early. For most equipment, the production cost increase is only 1 to 2 percent in contrast with average retail price. New engines running on low sulfur fuel will have reduced maintenance expenses. And if these regulations end up causing serious economic hardship, production companies are welcomed to petition EPA for relief.

Even if there is a slight cost increase in the production of non road diesel engines, the overall health benefits far outweigh these expenses. The EPA estimates that in 20 years, adhering to tier 4 emission standards would annually prevent almost 10 thousand premature deaths, over 8 thousand hospitalizations and nearly a million work days lost.

Alternatives to Diesel

With these new standards comes interest in alternatives to using diesel fueled engines for forklift trucks. According to the Industrial Truck Association (ITA), 56 percent of all lift trucks sold in the United States in 2007 were electric powered. The Jungheinrich Lift Truck Corp., for example, specializes in the manufacturing of only electric forklifts. There could be many reasons for this, including local and federal tax incentives offered for replacing old lift trucks with more environmentally friendly models. For example, according to the VP of marketing at Toyota Material Handling USA, the Railroad Commission of Texas recently earned $4 million in incentives for lift truck changeovers. Electric forklift trucks have many benefits—they produce no emissions and are much quieter. Their smaller size could also greatly benefit users of narrow aisle forklifts.

Jungheinrich Lift Truck Corp. Pneumatic Lift Truck

Switching from internal combustion (IC) forklift trucks to electric does, however, have its drawbacks. Disposing of the lead-acid batteries creates an environmental hazard, and electric forklifts require a battery charging area of at least 4000 square feet. However popular electric engines have become, another alternative, using fuel cell power, has recently generated buzz. They increase productivity because the voltage is constant, and they require less space for refueling stations.

Raymond Corp. Electric Lift Truck

These adaptations are overdue and necessary. Environmental issues, specifically air pollution due to mobile source emissions, have become pressing and imminent, but with progressive change like improved emission standards and developing electrical and fuel cell lift trucks, the manufacturing industry is doing its part in developing renewable sources of energy.