UK’s first hydrogen station opens

The UK has officially opened one of the first publicly accessible, zero-emission, automotive hydrogen filling station.

The filling station of the future is located in South Yorkshire, two miles from junction 33 on the M1, and is owned and run by energy storage specialist ITM Power, and is capable of generating up to 80kg of hydrogen a day – enough to fuel up 16 fuel-cell cars.

It’s one of about 15 hydrogen refuelling sites in the UK, and there are ambitious plans from the UK H2Mobility project to get a network of 65 stations open by 2020 and 1,150 by 2030.

There are plans to open five stations in London within the next 18 months, and Transport for London has proposed regulations mandating zero-emission fuel-cell or battery-electric power for the capital’s 23,000 black cabs by 2018.

Hydrogen fuel has come under fire in the past with some dismissing it as another way of using fossil fuels, since most hydrogen is steamed out of natural gas.

In this case of this new station however, hydrogen is obtained from electrolysising water molecules into their hydrogen and oxygen atoms with electricity generated by the 225kW wind turbine. The hydrogen gas is then compressed up to 5,000 pounds per square inch (it will be compressed at the automotive standard 10,000 PSI from next February) and stored in tanks on site.

Customers will be able to access the closed site with a swipe card and use the facility at will. The oxygen by-product is vented into the atmosphere.

There are no prices yet, and with no real market in automotive hydrogen, prices vary wildly. ‘We’re paying about £11 a kilogram,’ said Robin Hayles, special vehicles manager with Hyundai, ‘but I know the industry is trying to get the price down to around £7 a kilo.’

While Hyundai’s £50K ix35 is the only fuel-cell car on sale in the UK at the moment, Toyota’s £60,000 Mirai is set to go on sale this autumn, with several other rival models expected in the next couple of years.

Under the terms of the £31 million EU HyHive program, 15 partners, including five car makers (Toyota, BMW, Daimler, Honda and Hyundai), have been working to maintain a total of 110 different fuel-cell vehicles on the road.

In Japan, the government is aiming to increase the share of fuel-cell vehicles to between 50 and 70 per cent of the total new car market by 2030, and it also aims to make fuel cells the main road transportation power for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

As a result the Japanese government is funding a network of 100 hydrogen filling stations, mainly in four metropolitan areas, by the end of this year, with car makers and energy companies all contributing towards the cost.