Old Love Never Dies!

Eternal life is one way of conserving resources. Farmer Gerhard Funck and his H 15 D Linde forklift truck from 1972 have been inseparable for over 30 years. Despite being used almost every day, the truck has only ever needed a few repairs. And even then, Linde spare parts have still always done the trick...

Perfecting the Circular Economy

As part of the KION Group, Linde MH has committed itself to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions along its value chain (scope 1, 2, and 3) by no later than 2050. It has also joined the international Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), a project to which more than 1,000 companies have signed up to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement in a scientifically sound way. Reducing CO₂ alone will not be enough to achieve these goals. Instead, the objective is to create a comprehensive circular economy, where the result of one process forms the basis for another process. Read on for some examples of circular models.

Everything Goes Back to the Start

“We talk about circular product design,” says Janine Kirner, Manager of Product Sustainability at Linde MH. “The material and design decisions we make at the very start of the product development process determine whether materials remain in the technical cycle at the end of the life cycle so that they can be used as resources for new products.” This is also known as the cradle-to-cradle approach.

Linde MH uses its own product evolution process (iPEP) for its industrial trucks. This process is controlled by a piece of life cycle management software that organizes and documents the requirements and results. An excellent example of Linde MH’s environmentally friendly components are the counterweights that form a crucial part of its forklift trucks. For years now, these have been made from 100 percent recycled steel. Linde MH has them produced from cast scrap known as 3A scrap at its site in Weilbach im Odenwald. The scrapped parts used here include manhole covers and cast iron pipes – as well as worn-out recyclable counterweights, of course.

Gegengewicht-Produktion am Standort Weilbach
Counterweight production at the Weilbach site
Aufbereitung in Tschechien
Refurbishment work in the Czech Republic

Refurbished To Be As Hard As Steel

As typical products of mechanical engineering, Linde MH’s industrial trucks consist of several hundred individual parts. Most of these are made from metal, but the trucks also include some plastic parts and a few parts made from composite materials. This makes the trucks easy to be refurbished in preparation for a second life. At Linde MH’s remanufacturing center in the Czech Republic, around 5,000 forklift trucks are refurbished every year and directly fitted with the latest additional features at the customer’s request. In China in 2022, Linde MH also became the first provider on the market to introduce forklift truck sharing as an innovative rental model for its customers. All customers need to access this service is an app. Both used and rental trucks create a win-win situation for the environment and for users, who directly receive a high-quality forklift truck that meets their needs at an affordable price.

Li-Ion in the Spotlight

For a long time now, a clear majority of Linde MH’s forklift trucks have been electric. Lithium-ion batteries are increasingly the battery of choice and will play a key role in the intralogistics of tomorrow. This makes it all the more important to fully tap into their potential through refurbishment and recycling. Linde MH has already developed solutions for both of these steps.

The aim of the first step is to ensure that the valuable batteries can be used in industrial trucks for as long as possible. At KION Battery Systems (KBS) in Karlstein am Main, lithium-ion batteries that have reached their preliminary service life for the first time or are damaged can be refurbished.

Li-ion batteries are the focal point of the joint venture between Linde’s parent company the KION Group and battery specialist BMZ Holding. They can be refurbished there up to three times during their life cycle – by the time they reach their third or fourth life, they are still in a good enough condition to be used to store green electricity. Often, the refurbishment process simply entails aesthetic reworking and the replacement of seals and plugs. But, as explained by Matthias Bald, Head of Go-To-Market New Energy Solutions, more work is sometimes needed: “In some cases, individual cell modules need to be replaced. Despite this, the consistently modular design of these batteries makes them much easier to refurbish. They are therefore an excellent example of a component designed from the outset with sustainability in mind.” Refurbishment gives old batteries a new lease of life by restoring them to an almost perfect condition.

Battery refurbishment

If batteries that have already been in use for a long time can no longer be refurbished, the second step is to recycle them. The KION Group, which has been working with recycling specialist Li-Cycle Holdings since the start of 2023, supports Linde MH with this as well. The most important materials are recovered in a very environmentally friendly, two-stage process. The batteries are firstly shredded using special systems in Magdeburg to create an intermediate product known as black mass, which contains valuable metals. In a hydrometallurgical process, valuable materials like lithium carbonate and nickel sulfate are then extracted from this mass and used to produce new batteries. All this is done with minimal landfill waste, no wastewater discharge, and low air emissions. “The process allows up to 95 percent of the mass of a Li-ion battery to be reused. This makes us a true pioneer in the material handling industry and means that we are already meeting the new EU requirements for batteries,” says Kirner. “What’s more, we have many plans to keep developing our approach to life cycle management.”

Janine Kirner

The decisions we make at the very start of the product development process determine whether materials remain in the technical cycle at the end of the life cycle.

Janine Kirner, Manager of Product Sustainability at Linde MH