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New sources of energy will be needed to help meet growing demand for transport with lower carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Electric cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells could play an increasing role.
Vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells have the potential to be an important part of a future low-carbon transport system.
When driven, the vehicle’s fuel cell converts compressed hydrogen from the fuel tank into electricity that powers the motor. Fuel cell vehicles produce no emissions from the tailpipe, only water. If renewable electricity is used to make the hydrogen, they can be driven without generating any carbon.
Hydrogen-powered vehicles perform like petrol and diesel cars. They can drive similar distances to combustion engines and take only minutes to refuel, unlike most battery-electric cars which have shorter ranges and take hours to recharge.
Collaboration is necessary
For hydrogen transport to succeed, vehicle manufacturers, fuel suppliers and governments need to work together. They need to produce more hydrogen cars and install the supply infrastructure to make hydrogen an attractive option for consumers.
But car manufacturers will only invest in developing attractive and affordable vehicles if there is a refuelling structure in place. And fuel suppliers will only invest in infrastructure if there is demand for hydrogen fuel from consumers. It is a classic “chicken and egg” situation.
Shell and hydrogen
Shell is taking part in several initiatives which may help start to break the deadlock.
In Germany, we have set up a joint venture with industrial gas manufacturers Air Liquide and Linde, car maker Daimler and energy companies Total and OMV, to develop a nationwide network of 400 hydrogen refuelling stations by 2023. The German government and the European Union are part-funding the initiative.
We operate three hydrogen filling stations in Germany and plan to open four more in early 2016.
We also have two hydrogen filling stations in Los Angeles, California and are assessing the potential for more sites in the USA, UK, Switzerland, Austria, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.