BP has opened its first hydrogen fuelling station in the UK. The station, located in Hornchurch in Essex, has been providing refuelling services nearly four months for three public buses operating in central London.

The filling station and the buses are part of the Clean Urban Transport for Europe (CUTE) demonstration project, funded by the European Commission, to support nine European cities by introducing hydrogen into their public transport system.

David Nicolas, spokesman for BP, said: \\$quot;The Hornchurch filling station is only for the demonstration buses and not for public use.

\\$quot;BP has taken part in the demonstration project in order to gain more information about the possibilities of hydrogen use in the future. We are researching in a large scale, building up experience and we have a long-term approach to the scheme.

\\$quot;Hydrogen maybe coming a fuel of choice in the future in the transport sector and we want to help make choices and influence the development.\\$quot;

At the moment there are no private cars in the UK that operate by using hydrogen fuel.

The €18.5 million allocation from the European Commission to the demonstration project is shared by nine cities including Amsterdam, Barcelona, Hamburg, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, Porto, Stockholm and Stuttgart. These cities want to demonstrate that hydrogen is an efficient and environmentally friendly power source for the future of their cities.

The nine European cities are convinced that the combination of a hydrogen and fuel-cell bus in a quality public transport system will lead towards the most sustainable urban transport system and address all these important problems simultaneously.

At the moment there are three hydrogen fuel cell powered public busses operating in London and they all use the Hornchurch refilling station. They operate like conventional buses, on the same lines and under the same tight time schedule for best comparative assessment of performance and cost.

Mr Nicolas continued: \\$quot;The opening of the station was delayed because of planning issues which is why the buses have only been operating a short period of time. Also the Essex location was the only one BP was able to put the facility on.\\$quot;

BP Hydrogen fuelling station///Photo courtesy of BP

BP provides the refuelling infrastructure for three hydrogen fuel cell powered public buses in Barcelona, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Porto, a public refuelling station combining a range of alternative fuels in Berlin, the refuelling infrastructure for three hydrogen fuel cell powered public buses in Perth, Australia, BP's Aral subsidiary provides the infrastructure to fuel airside vehicles at Munich airport and provides the refuelling infrastructure to fuel hydrogen powered passenger cars in Singapore and Los Angeles.

The London hydrogen buses can be recognised from a hydrogen logo and a steam engine like 'hat' on the top of the buses.

Industry consultant John Raquet, a director oF Spiritus Consulting, states that the CUTE program is a starting point to the hydrogen economy which is expected to develop slowly until fuel cell costs reduce and reliability improves, as well as the supply logistics for sufficient volumes of hydrogen improve. At the moment fuel cell manufacturers are striving to produce fuel cell units that are cost competitive and still need to bring down the overal cost of the units. This is likely to will come from mass production but this is only possible through vechicle manufacturers increasing production of hybrid cars or fully electric cars.

However vechicle manufacturers want a garantted supply network of hydrogen before they go into mass production of electric cars. This is the which came first question, 'the chicken or the egg?'

Governments through such schemes as CUTE are aware of their environmental duties but the level of investment to address the supply network is lacking. However their are initiatives being undertaken by some companies to help kick start the supply logistics needed. Linde Group announced recently that it would invest €30 million towards the hydrogen highway for Germany and a hydrogen highway for Canada has been announced as well. This will help continue the forward momentum but until governments seriously consider increasing investment or providing tax incentives the progress will remain slow.

Certainly the industrial gas companies are playing an increasing role in developing the hydrogen economy but realistically the commercialisation of this will only happen in the 2010-2020 period. However what BP and its jv partners are doing in London and elsewhere around the world is a step in the right direction.

For further information:
Fuel Cell Bus Club