Shell has opened a new hydrogen refuelling station at Shell Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, just as the Department of Transport has confirmed a multi-million pound funding boost to increase the uptake of hydrogen.

Shell Beaconsfield on the M40 will be 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 in 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.”

He said usage at the Cobham site was currently low - 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. 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 those 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 electrolysed 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.

“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 it will mean for retailers is that potentially the 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.”

Graham Cooley, ceo of ITM Power, said: “ITM Power are pleased to open this new hydrogen station in Beaconsfield which is the first to sit on the main forecourt, alongside the petrol and diesel pumps. 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 alongside Shell to deploy further stations and grow the network of hydrogen stations.”

FCH JU executive director Bart Biebuyck said: “The FCH JU is proud to see its support significantly boosting market entry of hydrogen technologies for clean mobility. The opening of this new station at the Beaconsfield forecourt proves that hydrogen is now even more the fuel of the future, and is ready to offer an everyday green solution to citizens. We need to continue building on these achievements, and enable the transition towards a low-carbon transport system.”

Today’s hydrogen station opening follows a number of recent Shell initiatives to support the UK’s transition to low-carbon transport. These include the launch of Shell ReCharge, Shell’s on-forecourt rapid electric vehicle charging service; an agreement with charging network operator IONITY to offer charge points across ten European countries; and the acquisition of NewMotion, one of Europe’s largest electric vehicle charging networks.