Shell added some perspective to the ’electric’ onslaught last month with the opening of a new hydrogen refuelling station at Shell Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire. It happened in the same week as the Department for Transport confirmed a multi-million pound funding boost to increase the uptake of hydrogen.

Days later motoring journalist and TV presenter Quentin Willson told an audience of Top 50 Indies not to invest too heavily in electric vehicle charging because, in the long term, he believes the market will move towards hydrogen.

Shell Beaconsfield on the M40 is the first site in the UK to bring hydrogen under the same canopy as petrol and diesel. It follows the launch of the first fully branded and public hydrogen refuelling site in the UK at Shell Cobham in February 2017. The company will soon open a third hydrogen refuelling site at its Gatwick North site.

Mike Copson, hydrogen business development manager at Shell, said: "We’re delighted to be opening a new refuelling site at Shell Beaconsfield, demonstrating our commitment to hydrogen as a vital part of the UK’s future transport system.

"Bringing hydrogen under the canopy for the first time is a fantastic step towards making it a convenient and viable fuel choice for UK drivers."

The opening took place despite usage at the company’s Cobham site being currently ’low’ that is, equal to one to three uses per day at a site that serves 4,000 customers every day. "It’s a classic chicken and egg situation," explained Copson. "You have to collaborate and co-ordinate together as vehicle manufacturers and infrastructure suppliers. It’s clear infrastructure has to go down first, and then vehicles will follow. Our job as infrastructure suppliers is to encourage car manufacturers to bring those vehicles to the market."

The hydrogen station at Beaconsfield is the fifth hydrogen refuelling site in the UK to be supplied by ITM Power and will be the first to be opened as part of the H2ME project. The initiative has been partially funded by the European Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), and the UK’s Office of Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV).

The hydrogen is generated on-site using an electrolyser that requires only water and electricity to generate the hydrogen gas. Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles convert hydrogen into electricity to power the engine and produce only heat and water when driven. They can travel up to 700 kilometres on a single tank and can be refuelled in a few minutes. There are currently around a dozen hydrogen sites in the UK and less than 100 hydrogen vehicles.

"Any new infrastructure has challenges," stressed Copson. "It’s all about starting at one place. We’re at the beginning of the journey, but it’s an exciting one. Shell is of the opinion that there will be multiple fuel options in the future. We’re not backing one winner. What is clear is that depending on the sector, e-mobility is great for urban mobility; hydrogen is great for urban and extra-urban mobility. We also see an opportunity with hydrogen in heavy duty, where e-mobility may not be so prevalent. It’s really up to the market to decide."

He said the installation at Beaconsfield showed there was an opportunity for retailers to have hydrogen under the canopy now.

"The second reason for the installation is to ensure that hydrogen is fit for purpose and it is because it’s gone into the Blue Book. The challenge with hydrogen in the main is around the pressure that’s involved. Hydrogen is dispensed at either 350 bar or 700 bar so you have to make sure the metering of hydrogen is done correctly. Hydrogen being the lightest molecule in the periodic table means it’s not difficult to control, but it’s difficult to measure.

"The challenge is mainly around ensuring the dispensing pressures are good; and ensuring the dispensing experience is also consumer friendly."

Shell has also been working on dispenser design implementation. "We have a working prototype of what we believe the future dispenser is going to look like to make it an improved customer experience to where it is today. It’s perfectly acceptable today, but we’re always striving to make that experience better.

"I wouldn’t want to make any firm predictions on numbers. But I would hope to see more penetration of hydrogen, and e-mobility, and the other alternative fuel options that Shell is presenting as its fuels mosaic options. We’re also looking at gas-to-liquid, e-mobility, LNG and biofuels options as well.

"What this will mean for retailers is that potentially the fuel portfolio becomes much more diverse. The vehicle car parc in future may well be much more diverse as well, which is no bad thing, because it’s about customer choice; and Shell always believes in putting the customer first."

Dr Graham Cooley, ceo of ITM Power, said: "We are pleased to open this new hydrogen station which is the first to sit on the main forecourt. This shows a big step forward in offering Shell customers a clean, green fuel, which is generated on-site, eliminating fuel deliveries.

"We look forward to working with Shell to deploy further stations and grow the network of hydrogen stations."

hydrogen boost

Police cars and taxis will be among nearly 200 new hydrogen-powered vehicles switching to zero emission miles, thanks to a multimillion- pound government boost. The zero emission vehicles are part of a project that has won £8.8m in funding from the Department for Transport to improve access to hydrogen refuelling stations up and down the country and increase the number of hydrogen cars on our roads from this summer.
The winning project is run by a consortium managed by Element Energy and including expertise from ITM Power, Shell, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai. It will capitalise on the reliable mileage of established fleets and see vehicles being procured by emergency services such as the Metropolitan Police, as well as Green Tomato Cars and Europcar to support the growth of refuelling infrastructure for hydrogen vehicles up and down the country.
Roads Minister, Jesse Norman said:
"Decarbonising our roads is an essential part of meeting our climate targets. The innovative new technologies involved present great opportunities for our increasingly low carbon economy.
"Hydrogen has huge potential, especially for those making longer journeys and clocking up high mileage. That is what makes this project truly exciting."