Off-road vehicles such as mining trucks, are often touted as a sensible use case for green hydrogen due to the difficulty in charging batteries in remote areas a long way from power transmission lines.

Hydrogen: hype, hope and the hard truths around its role in the energy transition
Will hydrogen be the skeleton key to unlock a carbon-neutral world? Subscribe to the weekly Hydrogen Insight newsletter and get the evidence-based market insight you need for this rapidly evolving global market

But even one of hydrogen’s most bullish advocates, billionaire Andrew Forrest’s iron-ore mining company Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) — which includes green H2 developer Fortescue Future Industries — believes that batteries will be a better option for the industry’s haul trucks.

“We do believe that certainly this decade, batteries in trucks are going to be the most favourable solution, maybe not in every single haul, but for most haul routes,” FMG’s director of decarbonisation, Christiaan Heyning, told the Energy and Mines Australia Summit in Perth, Australia, today (Wednesday).

“The biggest reason for that is if you don’t use direct electrification... it would need to have hydrogen. Hydrogen requires triple [the] amount of power to do it, so you need a lot more generation capacity, a lot more land disturbance, and more transmission, so there’s a lot of inefficiencies.”

John Mulcahy, principal adviser on surface mining and technology at Australia’s largest iron-ore miner, Rio Tinto, also told the conference that hydrogen was a less efficient option than batteries for mining trucks.

“Hydrogen at the moment isn’t our preference, but it doesn’t mean it is dead by any means,” he said.

“What we are looking at primarily is the efficiency of the cycle, to go from charging and discharging a battery and powering a truck, versus powering an electrolyser, creating hydrogen, liquefying and compressing it and then converting it back into a fuel cell.

“The hydrogen cycle is about one-third as efficient, so our initial view is let’s drive it with batteries because of the higher efficiency, the lesser impact on infrastructure and distribution systems.”

However, he did add that hydrogen could become a better option in the future if it could be delivered to the mine, in the same way that diesel is today.

When asked by the Australian Financial Review if Heyning’s comments were representative of the thinking at FMG, a company spokeswoman said that Fortescue was “technology agnostic” when it comes to decarbonisation.

“We believe battery-electric, green hydrogen and green ammonia will all be critical to our decarbonisation plan, and we are taking practical steps to apply the best solution to each situation,” she said, adding that FMG was testing prototypes of both battery-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell haul trucks.