Although battery technology has come a long way in recent years, many manufacturers believe that further improvements are needed before battery-operated vacuums can serve as a feasible alternative to cord electric units.

“No one in jan/san is producing their own batteries, so we really have to go outside our industry for the research and development of batteries,” says Steinberg. “But as the auto industry, the military and cell phone companies continue to investigate new and better battery systems, it all trickles down to our industry.”

Indeed, most battery-operated vacuum manufacturers are currently using lithium-ion batteries, which are rechargeable batteries commonly found in laptops, tablets and cell phones. They are also popular choices for power tools and electric vehicles due to their light weight and high energy density. Hoover’s sister company, Milwaukee Tools, uses lithium-ion technology in its power tools, which has benefited Hoover in the development of a lithium-ion battery for its battery upright vacuum.

“With lithium-ion you get full power the entire time the vacuum is operating,” explains McDonnell. “Unlike traditional batteries that fade out of power gradually, a lithium-ion battery has fade-free power until the unit stops abruptly, so you have to keep the charger nearby. The batteries can be recharged for approximately 500 cycles over their lifespan.”

Emerson (the parent company of ProTeam) recently incorporated lithium polymer batteries — the next generation of lithium-ion technology — into some of its battery-operated vacuums. The technology allows for better use of the cells within the battery, which translates into smaller battery sizes and more consistent power.

“According to the battery manufacturer, we can get 300 cycles out of that battery if we run it for 55 minutes,” says Steinberg. “After that time the battery slowly starts to degrade to about 80 percent capacity, which is still usable. In our tests, we were able to get almost 380 cycles before the battery started to degrade.”

With a lot of current batteries, end users need to recharge them so often that they die too quickly to be cost-effective. 

“For a typical household product, if a battery can be recharged 500 times that’s years of use,” says Hyatt. “But if you’re recharging them two or three times a day to accommodate commercial use you can quickly see the replacement cost for batteries being a factor.”

Additionally, either labor costs or product costs will be higher with battery-operated vacuums due to the time it takes batteries to recharge. 

“Look at the runtime you’re going to get out of batteries as well as the recharge time,” says Hickman. “Some manufacturers have a vacuum that runs 30 minutes but takes 2.5 hours to recharge the battery, so you’re not getting much 

performance there. Or you have to invest in several extra battery packs to use the machine continuously.”

A representative from Bissell Big Green Commercial agrees that current battery recharge times leave a lot to be desired. 

“Because of the recharging factor, cordless vacuums can be challenging in the busy janitorial industry.”

Poor run and recharge times are only a couple of the hurdles preventing battery-operated vacuums from gaining market-wide acceptance. Current batteries are simply too heavy. 

“Consumers want lightweight, powerful products,” says McDonnell. “Unfortunately the more battery power you add to a product the more weight you add, so it’s a delicate balance creating a powerful cordless product that the consumer finds valuable.”


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