UKMHA advocates for a cleaner tomorrow

The UK’s hosting of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference this autumn will focus the attention of politicians, academics and industrialists on all aspects of green technology and decarbonisation, as the developed nations look to a world beyond the coronavirus.

Tim Waples, Chief Executive, UK Material Handling Association said: “This is a great opportunity for the industry to focus on environmental improvements. As the industry’s leading body, the UKMHA is committed to working with its members to develop cleaner energy consumption and advise on best practice for reducing carbon emissions.”

The challenge facing all industries is to find the innovative solutions that will ensure a cleaner future for us all. While the internal combustion engine (ICE) helped to power the mass industrialisation of the 20th century, as well as unimagined levels of personal mobility, its emissions are one of the factors influencing climate change.

The material handling industry’s contribution to this is nowhere near that of the automotive or aviation sectors but it is not immune from responsibility. Its carbon footprint is now coming under scrutiny and, while they are cleaner and more efficient than ever before, the focus is on ICE-powered forklifts which remain a popular option around the world.

The industry has invested huge sums to develop the world’s cleanest and most efficient diesel engines in accordance with European Stage V emissions requirements. These products are only now entering the market, so it will be several years before the undoubted benefits to the environment become apparent. However, whilst Stage V will improve air quality, by itself it does not achieve the nirvana of net zero.


Battery electric trucks are better able than ever to compete in the market segments traditionally the strongholds of diesel, nevertheless, challenges to widespread adoption remain. Capital cost and charge capacity are widely understood, however, charging time and availability of high-capacity charging infrastructure are major hurdles in many applications.

The material handling industry is in a better position than most to understand both the benefits and the challenges of non-ICE-power sources. While the automotive industry is only now embracing battery technology as its long-term salvation, the material handling sector has been using this form of power successfully for decades – and continues to refine the technology.

However, currently there is no single ideal battery chemistry, so while the demand for lithium-ion will undoubtably grow, the humble lead-acid battery is likely to be with us for many years to come. As ever, the optimum solution will be dependent on the requirements of the individual application, so it is important that policy makers recognise the need to encourage diversity rather than enforcing a ‘one size fits all’ outcome.

Whilst Government policy may determine the route to net zero, it will be incremental actions of individual businesses that take us there. Individual steps, such as efficiency gains, cannot deliver zero emissions, but it is important that they are recognised, celebrated and rewarded as vital contributions to the journey.

Greener fuels, such as bio-LPG, are one solution. These are appearing on the market, and the possibility of a carbon neutral alternative to traditional diesel may ensure the long-term survival of the ICE even past the 2050 net zero horizon. Unless all the barriers to successful adoption of the alternatives have been overcome, internal combustion engines will retain an important role in our national truck fleet.

The industry is currently ahead of those around it in developing one alternative source of power. However, without the political will to support it, the solution may never achieve its full potential, as David Goss, Technical Director of the UKMHA explains.

“Climate change experts often point to hydrogen as the long-term sustainable solution to the ICE. In fact, industrial trucks have long been at the forefront of developing hydrogen fuel cell (HFC) solutions; the trucks are market ready. However, as demonstrated by the lack of take up, without Government action to support the supply of high pressure, high purity hydrogen at the point of use, and at a competitive cost, this generally remains technically feasible but commercially unjustifiable,” he said.

“The fact remains that the material handling sector is well placed to be a leader in the roll-out of the hydrogen economy. What is lacking is the political will to make it happen. Therefore, the industry will be looking for the politicians to provide some direction when they sit around the summit table in Glasgow in November.”

The UK Material Handling Association, newly formed by the coming together of the British Industrial Truck Association (BITA) and the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA), is the voice of the industry and will continue to work with Government and other stakeholders to ensure that environmental expectations and opportunities are both clear and realistic.

For more information on the UK Material Handling Association, visit

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