Australia’s leading mining companies, including industry giant BHP, have made a significant decision to prioritize battery electric vehicles (BEVs) over hydrogen for their next-generation fleets.
This choice is driven by the energy efficiency advantages offered by direct electrification, with BEVs boasting an impressive 80% fuel-to-wheel efficiency compared to hydrogen’s 30%. Anna Wiley, Vice President of BHP, emphasizes the drawbacks of hydrogen generation, storage, and transportation, further solidifying the preference for BEVs. While hydrogen may still find applications in other sectors, this shift signifies a potential setback for hydrogen project developers.
Efficiency and cost factors are key drivers behind the mining industry’s choice of BEVs. BHP, Rio Tinto, and Fortescue all highlight the higher overall efficiency of electric trucks compared to hydrogen and diesel counterparts. Electric trucks demonstrate an efficiency of approximately 80%, while hydrogen and diesel trucks only achieve around 30% and 20% efficiency, respectively. These figures consider the losses incurred throughout the entire fuel-to-wheel energy conversion process, making the electricity-to-battery-to-electricity cycle more efficient than the hydrogen-based alternative.
Moreover, the cost savings associated with electric trucks are proving to be even more substantial than initially estimated. Previous cost comparisons often focused solely on the hydrogen fuel itself, disregarding the losses inherent in the hydrogen production process. Energy expert Saul Griffith points out that even with a perfect hydrogen production machine, only slightly over 70% of the energy generated from solar cells can be converted into hydrogen. This means that almost 80% of the original renewable energy would be lost by the time the truck’s wheels start moving. In contrast, electric trucks require less wind and solar energy to cover the same distance, resulting in greater cost savings.
The limited interest in hydrogen trucks is not unique to Australia, as it is mirrored in the Netherlands. In a recent subsidy round, no applications were received for hydrogen trucks, casting doubt on the Dutch government’s continued investment in hydrogen refueling stations. Environmental groups argue that electric trucks are more energy-efficient and predict that they could become the standard by 2035. TNO research supports this notion, suggesting that electric trucks will ultimately be cheaper than their diesel or hydrogen counterparts.
While hydrogen may have niche applications, particularly in the mining sector, its potential for widespread use in transportation seems to be diminishing. BHP, for instance, considers hydrogen as a potential option for replacing fossil gas in a Canadian potash mine’s processing facilities. However, even in this scenario, the mine plans to utilize 80% battery-powered vehicles for its underground mining and support fleet from the project’s outset. Green hydrogen may still be needed as a feedstock for certain applications, such as ammonium nitrate-based explosives.
The preference of Australia’s top mining companies for battery electric vehicles over hydrogen underlines the efficiency and cost advantages of BEVs. The limited appeal of hydrogen in other regions further supports this trend. While hydrogen may have specific niche uses, the future of the transportation sector, including both passenger transport and mining and heavy goods vehicles, appears to be leaning towards battery electric technology.