Shell yesterday [22 Feb] opened its first retail hydrogen filling station, at Cobham services on the M25 in Surrey.

The facility, located at the edge of the regular fuel station is completely autonomous, creating hydrogen on-site from tap water and electricity.

With certified renewable electricity and no transport requirement, Shell claims the whole hydrogen supply and usage process is zero-emission.

Shell is close to opening two more facilities, at Beaconsfield and Gatwick. The government is committed to 65 being in place by 2020.

The facility provides hydrogen at two pressures through two different types of nozzle, at 350bar and 700bar, the latter being normal for automotive systems.

Being pressurised, the process is slightly more involved than pumping diesel and more akin to LPG pumps.

The pump and vehicle communicate via an infra-red system, and once payment is authorised and the nozzle is connected, one button press checks pressure integrity and available capacity before filling the tank.

The system was demonstrated on a Toyota Mirai, taking around 3 minutes in total to fill its 5kg tank, enough for a range of up to 450 miles.

The price is currently £9.99/kg, with Shell’s target being £7/kg as sales volumes increase.

Chicken and the egg

Freight in the City sister title Commercial Motor has already driven a Renault hydrogen fuel cell truck, which was almost production ready.

It seemed to be the perfect zero-emissions vehicle, just awaiting a practical refuelling infrastructure.

Scania also has vehicles undergoing operational trials. With this in mind, we asked Shell if it had plans to provide suitable filling stations (although with plenty of space and a 3.2 metre-high canopy the existing design could be accessible for most middleweight rigid distribution trucks).

As expected, we discovered a chicken-and-egg situation, whereby Shell is prepared to provide the outlets once the demand exists.

However, the integration of these initial pumps into everyday filling stations is definitely a major step in the right direction.