Yesterday, gasworld was privy to a UK first and an epoch for environmental transport when Honda, BOC and Forward Swindon unveiled the first open access hydrogen vehicle refuelling station in the country.

Built and operated by industrial gas company BOC, a member of the Linde Group, the venture is located at the Honda UK Manufacturing site in South Marsdon, minutes away from the M4 motorway corridor to London.

Protected by an elegant acoustic cover, the station bears remarkable resemblance to an ordinary refuelling forecourt. Indeed, the filling process is equally similar and completed in four minutes. But unlike ordinary forecourts, vehicles departing the BOC/Honda facility will be carbon footprint free, leaving only water in their wake.

Thomas Brachmann, Head of Electrical Powertrain R&D at Honda demonstrated the process from start to finish as he drove the Honda Clarity into the station for automated re-fuelling. Brachmann described the project a ‘blueprint for future development’.

Mike Huggon, Managing Director of BOC UK & Ireland expanded, “The hydrogen refuelling station we are officially opening today is not an experiment that may or may not have wider application - it is a piece of a jigsaw leading towards that sustainable society we are all carving.$quot;

$quot;Honda are investing in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, Forward Swindon recognised that a low carbon economy can bring prosperity with it and BOC is adapting its 120 years gases and engineering experience to deliver more sustainable transport infrastructure. Innovation is at the core of all that.”

Huggon explained the forethought that went into the engineering and design, “This is the UK’s first combined 350 and 700 bar refuelling station. This future-proofs our facility as these are the two pressures being used as global standards; It can refuel vehicles from scooters to passenger cars and from light vehicles to buses. It is the first in the country that is compliant with the international hydrogen fuelling protocol SAEJ 26 01 - An assurance to vehicle manufacturers and users alike that this station really is state of the art.”

Storage, dispensing and drive

But just how does it operate and at what specifications?
The station itself looks much akin to its petrol and diesel sister stations; the consumer experience is also much the same. After swiping a card to activate the pump, the dispenser is then locked into place in one simple hand movement. The hydrogen undergoes a brief leak test before auto re-fuel begins. The whole process takes place in under four minutes.

Unlike eco alternatives such as battery powered cars, hydrogen vehicles offer substantial driving ranges of 270 miles, an efficiency of around 60% and - most crucially - zero emissions.

Meanwhile the station itself operates in a similar manner to current petrol and diesel facilities. Gas is brought on to the site and stored in fifteen-cylinder manifolds, screened from the forecourt. In the Swindon plant these are provided by BOC and are at 200 bar pressure.

In order to raise this to desired operational pressure the gas is piped into a crate structure which contains a pre-compressor, compressor and storage cylinders. These increase pressure by increments of 30 bar and 700 bar respectively. Finally, before reaching the vehicle, the hydrogen is chilled for safety. Gas issued at 350 bar is chilled to -20˚C, while 700 bar pressure gas is reduced to -40˚C.

With its similar functionality to conventional fuelling, comparable mileage range, speed and drive just maybe we really will see a roll-out into mainstream motoring.

Regardless of this, the environmental benefits are undeniable. as Brachmann reiterated, “Hydrogen fuel cell technology is the ultimate transport solution, meeting environmental demands but also delivering the range and performance that customers expect…Today is extremely important for the whole OEM and related industry.$quot;