If you listen to Pamela Amann, hydrogen is “in baby shoes” while batteries are “already in childhood”.
“I think we will see much more improvement on fuel cells and fuel cell tanks and things like that in the next years, than we will see in batteries.” the German engineer says.
Pamela Amann is project lead of hydrogen vehicle research at INEOS, and she’s convinced that hydrogen is the way to go for many applications. She’s not one-eyed either, having worked at Mercedes-Benz on the EQG, a battery electric vehicle adaptation of its popular workhorse SUV, the G-Wagon.
Coregas in Port Kembla which is home to Australia’s first commercial hydrogen refuelling station for heavy road vehicles. 
If anyone has an incentive to make hydrogen work, it’s the INEOS company. Its petrochemical divisions produce 400,000 tonnes of hydrogen every year, and its automotive arm is already running a prototype hydrogen fuel cell version of its Grenadier off-road station wagon.
“To be honest, a real utility vehicle, that’s a perfect fit with a fuel cell,” says Amann. “The payload and the range are better than batteries … and refilling time is unbelievably short. It’s like filling up your internal combustion engine.”
There are at least two ways to power a vehicle with hydrogen. The most common is the so-called Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (known as a FCEV). A future possibility promoted by Toyota (which also builds a FCEV sedan called Mirai) is to burn hydrogen in a combustion engine, though most experts say that’s far less efficient with today’s technology.
Amann says net-zero in transport is all about getting the mix right. That will include batteries in smaller vehicles, particularly in cities, as is already happening at speed. “But I think we will need hydrogen on heavyweight and long-range vehicles,” she says.
The INEOS Grenadier. 
Not everyone is as bullish. Many point to the cost and complexity of the supply chain, the potential danger in transporting hydrogen, and the expensive and energy-draining need for it to be stored as a super-cooled liquid or highly compressed gas. There’s also the fact Australia has just one commercial refuelling station for heavy trucks: the Coregas facility at Port Kembla, which opened in July.
Until recently, Christiaan Heyning, the director of decarbonisation at Fortescue Metals Group, was talking up the company’s view of hydrogen power for its mining trucks. However, Heyning told the AFR in June that batteries would win the battle “for most haul routes” in the next decade because of the inefficiencies that come with hydrogen production.
Dr Fiona Simon, the CEO of the Australian Hydrogen Council, shrugs off that prediction:
Australian Hydrogen Council chief executive Dr Fiona Simon. 
“They are going to be the experts about what works in their use case, but if there’s something I’ve learnt in these past few years, is that while physics and chemistry are immutable, the combination of those with the engineering and economics can still lead to some very different conclusions based on people’s business cases.”
Simon sees heavy road vehicles of the future using a combination of hydrogen and batteries, depending on the exact requirements of the job, the route and the vehicle. She says hydrogen has huge future demand across multiple sectors, “so we’re not out there fighting for it to be in everything … hydrogen as a clean fuel to decarbonise the economy really comes into its own in the hard-to-abate sectors, where batteries don’t get you there.”
Shipping, some aviation, some buses and ferries, and certain long-haul trucks are the transport uses she cites as “areas where hydrogen is definitely being seen as the better way to go”.
One example is an Australian bus company running tight timetables involving stop-start sections in built-up areas and highway running at 100 km/h between regional cities. “They found that the battery options meant that they weren’t able to do that cost-effectively relative to them doing it with the fuel cell vehicle, where they were able to spend a lot less time recharging or refuelling, while getting more weight and more speed over a longer time frame,” Simon says.
This is all future modelling because hydrogen is being used in road transport in Australia almost exclusively in limited scope research trials. However, the CSIRO lists 28 trials or projects, so there is plenty happening.
Simon admits it’s very hard to model the next few years because things are changing so quickly. “We’re seeing improvements in batteries, we’re seeing improvements in hydrogen technologies, so it’s going to remain pretty challenging,” she says.
Among the other unknowns are future legislation (the Hydrogen Council wants the federal government’s promised emission standards to cover trucks as well); the extent of governmental commitment to building a refuelling infrastructure; and future vehicle availability (Australia is a small market and a rare right-hand drive one).
“We are limited by all of that,” says Simon, “but seeing some green shoots come through.”
INEOS’s Amann envisions a future where renewable power sources are producing green hydrogen in deserts, offshore, “everywhere”, including at on-demand sites in Australia. “You can have independent stations somewhere in the middle of nowhere, because you can use wind, solar, water energy, sustainable energy, to produce your hydrogen with an electrolyser [there] and then have some vessels to store it, and with a nozzle, you can fill up.”
The US government is currently tipping $US7 billion into such on-site production hubs, but such an approach still seems a long way away here.
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