The World of Batteries
Dated: 21-02-2019

From equipment that use cords to cordless equipment, from flooded batteries to AGM, from manually operated equipment to robotics, batteries are advancing like never before. Here’s a lowdown on how these products are running the cleaning and hygiene industry.

The cleaning and hygiene industry has undergone many changes in the recent past all thanks to the technological advancement and innovations that have led to this revolution. The floor care segment, in particular, saw the evolution of battery-equipped cleaning tools for improving productivity while enhancing sustainability. The FM industry also gave this battery-equipped equipment a warm welcome because of the flexibility it offers during their cleaning operations, especially during peak hours in public spaces.

Batteries, in general, offer a number of environmental advantages by facilitating a greater share of renewable energy in the power sector. They help in avoiding the negative environmental impact of fossil fuel or nuclear-based power such as air pollution and its corresponding effects on human and ecological health, as well as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Furthermore, materials in batteries can be recovered and recycled, some of them indefinitely – unlike fossil fuels, which are burned and lost forever when used for energy production. However, manufacturing and using batteries, as well as the way they are treated at the end of their life, also has environmental impacts. In addition, concerns surrounding the toxicity and safety (e.g. flammability) of certain battery components remain. For instance, there are issues relating to some of the materials used in lithium-ion technologies, including active materials in the electrodes and electrolytes, notably cobalt, as well as the substances that bind electrode materials together.

There are many means of addressing these material issues in future battery designs. For instance, increasing the energy density of batteries (i.e. the amount of energy stored per litre or kilogram of battery) not only offers important benefits for battery performance, but also reduces pressure on resources and the impacts caused by battery production, as less material overall is needed to produce the same capacity of battery. Various alternatives to toxic materials and/or materials with limited or risky supply are also being explored by scientists.

Maintenance-free batteries

The use of battery-operated cleaning equipment is critical to an operator’s ability to perform anytime cleaning—equipment must be maneuverable, it must not pose a safety hazard to building occupants and it must be quiet. However, the battery cost for many machines can be equal to half the cost of the machine itself. Fortunately, the cleaning industry has again leveraged consumer technologies to create advancements in batteries and battery charging systems that are improving battery life.Sealed, maintenance-free batteries such as those found in automobiles eliminate the need for operators to monitor, manage, and maintain water levels associated with traditional wet-acid batteries. The most common maintenance-free battery advancement to migrate to commercial floor care is the Lithium-ion (Li-Ion) battery. Common in home electronics, Li-Ion battery packs are lighter in weight than traditional batteries and provide for longer run times. Thanks to ease-of-use, lighter weight, and longer run times, maintenance-free batteries, in particular Li-Ion batteries, have an immediate impact on operator productivity and machine maintenance costs.

Often overlooked in the push for increased battery capacity is the importance of charging technology. As demands on battery capacity increase so does the risk for thermal issues and failure. Those risks can be largely avoided by using sophisticated software and sensor-suites built into higher-end batteries that monitor temperature and battery drain and automatically adjust accordingly. Such self-regulating technology is now commonly used in car and cell phone batteries, and even in industrial ride-on floor scrubbers.

The commercial cleaning industry is quickly recognising that its customers are consumers who are familiar with the vast benefits that technology offers. These technologies have been rapidly making their way into commercial floor care in recent years, as evidenced by the technologies noted above, and will continue to do as customers, like consumers, increase their desire for convenience, productivity, cost savings, and safety.

Source: ISSA Today & Science for Environment Policy  

We speak to Vicki Hall the Director Technical Solutions of Trojan Battery Company - one of the world’s leading manufacturer of deep-cycle batteries – to understand what kind of batteries are ideal to use in cleaning equipment, the latest product innovation in this segment and the challenges involved…

The battery world

Deep-cycle flooded and AGM batteries are in demand currently with regard to the cleaning equipment. The difference between flooded and AGM batteries is in their construction. The AGM battery is made using an AGM (absorbed glass mat) separator, which absorbs the electrolyte (sulfuric acid). Therefore, the AGM batteries are considered non-spillable because there is no free electrolyte. The flooded battery uses a rubberbased separator and has free electrolytes in each cell. If the battery is tipped, the electrolyte can leak out. Their applications are identical as the equipment doesn’t care which type of battery is installed. So, either flooded or AGM batteries may be used in floor care equipment. The AGM batteries are more expensive but do not require maintenance. The flooded batteries are less expensive but require regular water addition.

Trojan batteries

We offer deep-cycle flooded and AGM batteries across golf/electric vehicle, floor care, aerial work platform, renewable energy and oil and gas industries. We sell to global OEM’s and cater to equipment manufacturers like Factory Cat/RPS Corp, ICE, Minuteman International, Pacific Floor Care, Kärcher North America, The Tennant Company, Nilfisk-Advance, Inc., Tacony Corp and Diversey. We’ve recently launched our Trillium line, which is our Lithium battery offering, at the ISSA Cleaning Show last year. It is LiFePO4, which is the safety Li-Ion chemistry. The product was very well received due to its high energy and long cycle life, and we did receive a lot of inquiries from the floor care equipment manufacturers.

Cleaning & maintenance

The battery life issues are a direct result of improper battery care. The users need to practice proper maintenance including watering (flooded batteries) and charging. Batteries must be charged after every use. The charge must be allowed to complete before unplugging the charger for best performance and life. Besides, batteries seem to attract dust, dirt, and grime. Keeping them clean will help spot signs of trouble when they appear and avoid problems associated with grime. Check that all vent caps are tightly in place. Clean the battery top with a cloth or brush and a solution of baking soda and water. When cleaning, do not allow any cleaning solution or other foreign matter to get inside the battery. Rinse with water and dry with a clean cloth. Clean battery terminals and the inside of cable clamps using a post and clamp cleaner. Clean terminals will have a bright metallic shine. Reconnect the clamps to the terminals and thinly coat them with an anti-corrosive spray or silicon gel. Keep the area around batteries clean and dry.

Challenges

Battery life is always dependent upon user care, which includes watering for flooded batteries and then proper charging for both flooded and AGM types. These applications typically involve a variety of users who may or may not provide proper maintenance. The typical life is from 18 months to two years.

Michael Nicholas, General Manager, Tafawuq Facility Management - a UAEbased integrated facilities management company - talks about how they incorporate battery-equipped equipment in their cleaning operations, the feedback they have received from their cleaning staff, and more…

Cleaning operations and maintenance

At Tafawuq, we have incorporated battery-operated ride-on machines, mainly for our car park cleaning, remote areas and parks. We also use hand-held, battery-operated window cleaning tools. The battery-operated cleaning machines can improve HSE due to the lack of trailing wires and also don’t threaten the buildup of fumes in less well ventilated areas. We have received positive feedback from our cleaning staff regarding the battery operated machines, due to the flexibility it offers during the cleaning operations. The key to ensure a good shelf life of battery-equipped equipment is effective maintenance of the machines. If well maintained, there are no issues with the lifespan. The advancements in battery technology in recent years has greatly increased the runtime of cleaning machines, while at the same time reduced the charge times of batteries, which has greatly improved the viability of battery operated cleaning equipment within the FM industry. We consult our equipment suppliers to specify the batteries to be used, as they carry out extensive research to ensure that the batteries are fit for purpose, cost effective and efficient. This also ensures full compatibility to the machines and chargers.

The latest technologies

Batteries have improved over the years, providing better storage with increased reliability. We are not just looking at the latest developments but it’s the future – if battery technology is going to better support longer equipment run times, the industry still needs to see greater storage capacity with shorter charge times (to reduce equipment downtime or the avoidance of battery changeover), faster power delivery and all at a reduced cost.

Training

Battery maintenance isn’t currently offered as a specific focus area but included as part of the overall equipment maintenance programme. If battery specific training can be provided, with a focus on increasing the lifespan of the battery, this would be of benefit to the industry.