Shell Partners With Toyota To Build Hydrogen Fueling Stations In California


Royal Dutch Shell is one of the world’s largest petroleum companies. So why is it partnering with Toyota to build hydrogen fueling stations in California?  “The enemy of the enemy is a friend,” says Toyota product manager Katsuhiko Hirose. When Tesla took nearly 380,000 reservations for the Model 3 last spring, it sent shock waves through the industry. Musk “threatens the oil companies, and the oil companies respond the other way,” adds Hirose. The other way in this instance is a firm embrace of hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Hydrogen fueling station

Shell has announced it will build 7 hydrogen fueling stations in The Golden State to help support Toyota and its fuel cell Mirai. California has set a goal of 100 fueling stations by 2024. The California Energy Board is considering throwing more than $16 million into the pot to help make that happen. “The Shell-Toyota partnership “shows there’s a lot of interest and that the hydrogen market is poised to move forward rapidly,” said Janea Scott, a member of the California commission. Shell and Toyota will pony up $11.4 million of their own money.

Wait a minute. That’s almost $20 million for 7 stations and someone thinks that’s a good idea? Apparently when your core business is under threat from electric cars, grasping at straws is a logical reaction. At least much of the hydrogen will be made by reforming natural gas, a fossil fuel that can help keep money pouring in to corporate coffers until the final collapse occurs. Shell’s response could be compared to polishing the silverware in the dining rooms of the Titanic as it hurtles toward the iceberg.

“Shell wants to be in the forefront of this technology,” said Oliver Bishop, general manager at Shell for hydrogen. The complexities of producing, storing and delivering the fuel necessitate “the support of governments and of car companies like Toyota to make it work. Hydrogen is clean. It’s flexible and has many applications. What’s not to like about it?” he asks.


Toyota believes that internal combustion engines will be banned one day and so it is planning to eliminate them from its product lineup by the year 2050. It is betting hydrogen fuel cells will replace most of them. “ When no more combustion of fuel is allowed, hydrogen will become one of the major sources of fuel, of that we’re confident,” says Kiyotaka Ise, Toyota’s president of advanced research and development and engineering. He thinks customers will prefer fuel cell cars over plug-in hybrids. The government of Japan is strongly backing the transition to hydrogen power. It will spend $400 million on hydrogen infrastructure before the 2020 Summer Olympics open in Tokyo.

Shell and Toyota are also part of a consortium that hopes to expand the hydrogen fueling network in Europe. Together with French fuel company Total, hydrogen companies Air Liquide and Linde, and 13 other companies, they have formed a global hydrogen council and will invest $10.7 billion in hydrogen related products over the next five years.

The case against hydrogen has been laid out in detail here at Gas2 on several occasions. It’s biggest allure seems to be that refueling a hydrogen powered car takes about the same amount of time as putting gas in a conventional car m(when the pumps work correctly). Billions of dollars are going to be spent because people can’t wait to recharge their electric cars? That makes no sense. The world is facing a full blown climate emergency and people are making enormous investments so drivers won’t suffer any inconvenience? Unbelievable. Not only that but charging times are coming down fast and will continue to fall.

Fuel cells could play an important role when it comes to moving freight and cargo. Container ships are some of the biggest polluters on the planet. Just 160 of those floating behemoths create more pollution than all the internal combustion vehicles in the world combined. Transitioning the world’s fleet of cargo vessels would be hugely important and would only require a hand full of fueling facilities at ports around the world. Hydrogen for passenger cars will need thousands of fueling stations at a cost of a $1 trillion or more.

Fuel cells could also play an important part in replacing diesel engines in heavy trucks, trains, buses, and other vehicles involved in transporting people and goods on a daily basis. But for private passenger cars? Hydrogen is precisely what Elon Musk called in years ago — bullshit. That remark inspired Toyota to create an amusing ad showing hydrogen being made from the methane emissions emanating from fresh cow dung.

While that ad may have provided a few chuckles, the fierceness with which fossil fuel companies and legacy automakers cling to the past in order to stave off the inevitable day of reckoning is, as Donald Trump might say, “Sad. So, so sad.”

Source: Automotive News




About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • Rick Danger

    Die, Toyota. Die, Shell. And take your gasoline and your BS hydrogen with you.
    If Toyota plans to build ICEs until 2050, they won’t be here in 2030.
    Works for me.

  • kvleeuwen

    When enough money is poured in, the hydrogen economy could actually somewhat work. You’d have expensive, complex, mediocre cars (good for Toyota) and easily controllable infrastructure (good for Shell). So this partnership makes total sense if your goal is to have business as usual. The downsize is that if this gets successful (the marketing of hydrogen is excellent), a good crisis is wasted and we don’t get something better than the status quo – the home-chargeable battery-electric car.

    • As long as Tesla is around, there will be progress beyond the EV status quo.

  • Marc P

    I wish the idea of hydrogen as a car fuel would just go away. It’s just plain stupid in every way. However, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of money. The oil companies make a lot of money off of us and H2 means they can still make more money selling us fuel for eons to come… They’re going to fight tooth and nail to keep their business model alive. Unfortunately, it might actually work.

  • Epicurus

    Shell has gas reserves so they see the production of hydrogen as another market for their natural gas.

    “The California Energy Board is considering throwing more than $16 million into the pot” while Shell and Toyota are only investing $11.4 million?

    How much did Shell and Toyota have to spend in political contributions to get state officials to stab California taxpayers in the back?

    • I read that sentence as a direct follow to the previous one that was targeting a goal of 100 total stations. IIRC, there are around 30 now, so presumably the $16mn would be spread over the remaining 70. Plus whatever infusion they’re able to bleed off of the VW settlement funds.

  • Epicurus

    “Container ships are some of the biggest polluters on the planet. Just 160 of those floating behemoths create more pollution than all the internal combustion vehicles in the world combined.”

    Holy sheet. We should be concentrating on fixing these ships.

    • Yea, that’s why I’m not adamantly against the proposal to use VW settlement funds to repower diesel marine vessels with Tier IV units. Those offer enormous opportunities for real reductions, though they’re not as good for advertising/public goodwill for VW as putting up charging stations everywhere will be.

    • Steve Hanley

      Yup. While electric cars are sexy and grab headlines, garbage trucks, semis, school buses, and delivery vans create more emissions than all cars, plus they add nitrous oxides and particulates to the mix.

      Cargo ships are another whole order of magnitude worse than any of them. The play now is to use cleaner fuels while in territorial waters, but once they are out to see, there is no law to control what they burn and no way to enforce it if there was one.

      Most of the biggest companies, like Maersk, want to clean up their act but not if it will put them at a competitive disadvantage. To make ships cleaner will take technology that costs less than the crud they burn today.

      • Epicurus

        Natural gas may be the easiest, cheapest, near-term solution for buses, large trucks, and semis. It wouldn’t cost that much to add natural gas to interstate truck stops. Pickens has been pushing this for years to no avail.

        A ship could run on LNG, couldn’t it?

        There needs to be some form of world regulatory power to cover what happens on the high seas.

  • robert Jones

    There is another little known fact about Hydrogen fuel stations their capacity is quite limited. The current stations can barely supply more than four cars per day. If they bring in hydrogen by truck instead of reforming it on site there is also the risk of contaminants (temporarily) affecting fuel cell performance.
    Plus in a side note have you seen how many radiators a Mirai requires!!!
    No wonder that car is as ugly as sin and has the aerodynamics of a brick.