British Supermarket Chain Sainsbury's Becomes First in UK to Promise Hydrogen Filling Stations

As we detailed last week, anyone in the UK buying or leasing a hydrogen fuel celled car at moment will find themselves faced with something of an uphill struggle to find somewhere convenient to fill up, thanks to only a handful of publicly-assessable hydrogen filling stations across the UK. What’s more, unlike electric cars, which can be refuelled — albeit slowly — from a domestic power socket, hydrogen fuel cell cars require dedicated hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in order to safely refuel.

Buy your groceries and fuel up your hydrogen fuel cell car from the end of this year at Sainsbury's Hendon.

Buy your groceries and fuel up your hydrogen fuel cell car from the end of this year at Sainsbury’s Hendon.

But now British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s has become the first in the UK to announce its intent to offer hydrogen fuel alongside premium, unleaded and diesel at its store-based gas stations in the near future. The first of these, it says, will be its Hendon store, located near the start of the M1 motorway some nine miles north west of the city of Westminster.

Announced yesterday, the hydrogen filling station is expected to be online at the Sainsbury’s Hendon story by the end of the year and forms an ongoing commitment by the nationwide grocery store chain to add hydrogen refuelling capabilities at its gas stations nationwide.

The rollout is part of Sainsbury’s commitment to the UKH2Mobility project, a nationwide effort to evaluate the benefits of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the UK and to develop a roadmap for the introduction of vehicles and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure moving forward. Its partners include Air Liquid SA, Daimler, Hyundai, Intelligent Energy Limited, ITM Power plc, Johnson Matthey plc, Nissan, Scottish & Southern energy, The BOC Group, and Toyota, as well as supermarket chain Morrisons and three different UK government departments — The Department for  Buisness, Innovation and Skills, The Department for Transport and the Department for Energy and Climate Change in addition to the European Fuel Cells & Hydrogen Joint Undertaking. 

Hyundai imported its first production iX35 hydrogen fuel cell cars into the UK last week.

Hyundai imported its first production iX35 hydrogen fuel cell cars into the UK last week.

The installation of the Hydrogen filling station at Sainsbury’s Hendon has been funded by the London Hydrogen Network Expansion (LHNE) project. Operated with funds from Innovate UK — a government-backed group formerly known as the Technology Strategy Board — the LHNE project is part of a £7.5 million investment designed to accelerate the commercialisation of a hydrogen fuel cell economy.

Despite being funded by the LHNE project however, the 700-bar hydrogen fuel cell filling station is owned and operated by Air Products, a specialist refilling company which focuses in selling gasses and chemicals in mainly industrial settings but also offers bespoke hydrogen filling stations to the gas station industry.

It already owns and operates several hydrogen filling stations across the Greater London area, including one at Heathrow Airport, but the upcoming station at Hendon will be the first hydrogen filling station to be located at a gas station.

“Making hydrogen technology available at a Supermarket for the first time is another big step in encouraging the use of cleaner, greener fuels to reduce air pollution and protect the nation’s health,” Said Diana Raine, Hydrogen Energy Business Manager for Air Products. “We’re already leading the charge with a network of hydrogen stations across London and this additional station will set us in good stead for the UK arrival of commercially-available hydrogen vehicles over the next few years.”

At the moment, most hydrogen filling station efforts are being focused in and around London, making hydrogen fuel cell vehicles only really practical in and around London itself. But over the coming years, Sainsbury’s is expected to increase the number of hydrogen filling stations it operates elsewhere in the UK. With supermarket gas stations being the favourite filling place for most Brits today, it makes a logical choice, too.

Our only hope? That Sainsbury’s promised hydrogen filling station infrastructure is more reliable than some of the electric car charging stations installed at some of its stores across the UK, many of which we’ve encountered in non-functioning state.

In fact, there’s one Sainsbury’s not too far from our south-west headquarters which opened back in 2011, complete with recharging stations for electric cars. In the three-and-a-half years since it opened however, both of its charging stations have remained in a non-operational state.

Let’s hope Sainsbury’s latest endeavour doesn’t suffer the same fate.

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