The UK’s hydrogen highway gained another station today, when ITM Power officially opened it’s offering – located just a stones throw away from the M1.

But unlike other stations, this is the first of its kind in the country as it produces hydrogen through electrolysis, which is powered by a wind turbine just yards from the fuel dispenser.

Located at the Advanced Manufacturing Park, near Sheffield, the station marks an important milestone for the company.

Speaking to a packed crowd of specially invited guests, funding partners and media, Chief Technology Officer Dr. Simon Bourne explained the history behind the company and the dedication it has displayed towards self-funding the development of hydrogen fuelling to reach the stage it is at today.

He said, “I joined ITM in 2002 and was heavily involved in the development of our first offering to the market. A home hydrogen refueller – our Green Box – that was a small self pressurising electrolyser.”

“We demonstrated its effectiveness on a converted Ford Focus that we had transformed ourselves. But what we didn’t foresee was getting a permit for an electrolyser at home would be so difficult. Which awoke us to the need for ideas that passed the red tape of planning law.”

Bourne continued, “But focusing on today, it’s huge for us – it represents the culmination of a lot of years worth of effort. One of the main differences is that OEMs are here with us today, with their fuel cell cars, for people to see what the zero carbon fuelling future looks like.”

“Today means a lot to me and us as a company. We always had the vision to be where we are today. It’s taken a number of years and money to get to where we are now but the fact is – we made it.”

This launch comes after last week’s breakthrough announcement that ITM is to site three hydrogen refuelling stations on Shell forecourts in London. One of these stations had been previously revealed as being located at the National Physical Laboratory, in Teddington.

This morning (Thursday) ITM signed-off on the location of the second Shell station as part of their cooperation agreement – the Centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence, in Rainham, Essex.

“The Shell deal we have is important as it gains us access to fuelling forecourts. To have this deal means we can put the hydrogen fuelling capability in surroundings that the motorist is accustomed to,” stated Dr. Bourne.

On the site, a 225kW wind turbine provides the green electricity required to split purified water into its raw components – hydrogen and oxygen.

The amount of hydrogen produced every day by the system is 80kg at a pressure of 20-bar. Pressure is then increased to 300-bar when, only at this stage, it is ready for dispensing.

Those at the event were also provided the chance to test drive some of the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles from manufacturers also at the launch.

The day I witnessed the future

Do you remember where you were when man walked on the moon? Or when England won the World Cup?

I’m sure, in the not too distant future, we’ll all recall the first time we drove a fuel cell vehicle and reveled at the speed the fuel tank can be refilled in.

For me, that day was today.

Now I wasn’t permitted to refuel the vehicle myself – so I still have that experience to be realised. But I did get to drive one of the cars. Toyota’s offering, the Mirai (pictured) is breathtakingly good looking and has an executive feel about the design inside the car. Unfortunately, I was also not allowed to drive this car – due to it not being released in the UK for about another month (October 12th).

But I did get to put Hyundai’s ix35 through its paces – just around the block of the Advanced Manufacturing Park that the fuelling station is situated on.

What can I say?

There’s nothing different about it. You don’t get into the car via a teleportation device. You don’t accelerate with an elaborate movement of the hand or apply the breaks by shouting ‘stop’ at the top of your voice. It’s a car and it operates just like a ‘normal’ conventional car does.

I was collected from Vienna airport, by Linde representatives when the company launched its IC90 last Summer, in a hydrogen fuel cell car. The only difference I noticed then was that instead of a rev-counter (tachometer), it had a power-output device – indicating how economically you were driving. The harder you depressed the accelerator, the more power you would be generating.

This is different in the ix35 hydrogen fuel cell, as the three options your driving output are provided with are either; ‘off’ (for when the car is not powered up), ‘charge’ (for when the car is charging the battery through the energy recovery systems we are all accustomed like the ones in a Prius), or ‘power’ (needs no explanation).

Because the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles utilise the benefits of an electric drive train, the cars do make a futuristic whirring sound upon acceleration. But on the whole they are very, very, quiet. The interior is so tranquility-inducing that before I knew it I was in a Zen-like coma and half of my time driving the car had expired. With an open section of road I tried to test the acceleration out and discovered, the brochure doesn’t lie, 12.5 seconds is roughly what it takes to go from 0-60.

The only issue I can predict isn’t if hydrogen fuel cells will be successful – because they will. There’s no doubt about that. The issue is how will the public learn to live with them.

These cars of the future are like ninja assassins on four wheels. Maybe it’s time for Dave Prowse (the Darth Vader actor also starred as the Green Cross Code man in the UK promoting the work of the National Road Safety Committee) to don the white and green superhero suit again and reeducate the world on the fundamentals of how to stay safe when near a road before crossing. But with a 21st century twist.

Stop and look, then look again, and again and again. There really is no need for listening anymore when these cars are on the road. You’ll hear nothing.