Shell announced the opening of each of its three hydrogen filling stations with great fanfare between 2017 and 2019, but it has quietly closed them all down this year, Hydrogen Insight has learned.

Only 11 public H2 pumps remain open in the UK, compared to more than 57,000 public electric-vehicle (EV) charging points.

Shell said the decision to close its H2 facilities at Gatwick Airport, Cobham and Beaconsfield was taken in conjunction with their operator, Motive — owned by UK electrolyser maker ITM Power — which supplies all its pumps with green hydrogen.

All three H2 pumps had been partly funded by the European Fuel Cell Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (now known as the Clean Hydrogen Partnership), and the UKs Office of Low Emission Vehicles (now called the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles).

H2 filling stations — which each cost at least $2m to build, according to the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Partnership — are undoubtedly operated at a loss in the UK due to the lack of hydrogen-powered vehicles on the country’s roads.

But Shell tells Hydrogen Insight that the H2 pumps were closed because “they were our first generation of prototype sites, and the technology on them had reached its end of life”.

It added: “The focus for Shell in the UK is to see where there are opportunities to build multi-modal hubs for heavy-duty trucks, similar to a model we have built in California.”

Motive also closed a fourth hydrogen pump in Swindon this year.

“The sites [at Cobham, Swindon and Gatwick] are not performing satisfactorily and the footprint available is too small to accommodate upgrade for larger vehicles and future technology which has led us to taking a decision to close the sites,” Motive said in a statement earlier this year. “We have invested over £2m (£2.23m) per year to sustain our small stations but have taken the decision that it is not sustainable to continue to make this investment.

“We are focusing on large vehicle refuelling and the closure of these sites is a reflection of their small footprints from them being the first of a kind and prototypes which we have learned from, allowing us to improve our future network.”

The Cobham pump was partly funded by the European Fuel Cell Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (now known as the Clean Hydrogen Partnership), and the UKs Office of Low Emission Vehicles (now called the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles).

Lack of hydrogen cars

Only two hydrogen-powered car models have been sold in the UK — the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Nexo — resulting in total sales of 209 and 275 units, respectively, according to the latest available figures.

Independent analyst Michael Liebreich told the World Hydrogen Congress on Wednesday that fuel-cell cars will never take off because they are “worse vehicles” than battery electric vehicles (BEVs) — more expensive to build, maintain and run.

And its new Energy Transition Outlook 2022 report, DNV predicts that only 0.01% of the world’s cars would run on hydrogen in 2050.

This is because “fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) propulsion is much less efficient, more complicated, and thus more costly than that of battery electric vehicles”, it says.

“For these reasons, major vehicle manufacturers are focusing almost exclusively on BEV models for passenger transport, which will lead to a global share of 85% of new car sales in 2050, versus only 0.01% FCEVs).”

Are long-distance trucks a better bet?

While some analysts, such as Liebreich — as well as the International Transport Forum think tank and Fraunhofer ISI — believe that long-distance trucks will also go the way of batteries, rather than fuel cells, others, such as the International Renewable Energy Agency are on the fence, while logistics operators apparently favour hydrogen over batteries for long-haul road transport.

Hydrogen truck maker Hyzon Motors told Recharge in March that H2 is the only viable carbon-free solution for long-haul trucks because electricity grids would not be able to cope with fast-charging multiple battery trucks at the same time, and that an all-electric system for lorries would require eight times as many chargepoints due to the longer charging times.

This article was updated on October 17 with more accurate sales figures of the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo.