Oil major Shell on Tuesday announced a pay-as-you-go hydrogen truck scheme for drivers of large goods vehicles in Germany, starting from this month.

Customers will get exclusive use of a 15-tonne fuel-cell electric version of a Mercedes Benz Atego truck for a monthly fee, “removing the need for a large upfront investment”, according to an announcement on social media.

“To kick-start the transition to zero emission trucking there are so many puzzle pieces that need to fit together that it is overwhelming for our customers,” wrote Shell’s vice president for hydrogen Paul Bogers on LinkedIn.

“A pay-per-use model can be a great way to spread the risk and allow early adopters to get real world experience without having to bet the company on a single technology.”

Shell had previously disclosed in its 2022 Energy Transition Progress Report published earlier this year that it had purchased 25 of these vehicles for the scheme.

The oil major claims that the trucks have a range of up to 450 kilometres and refuelling time of around 15 minutes.

The company also says that “scheduled and unscheduled maintenance is available as needed, reducing operational and performance risks, as well as 24/7 customer support”, although it is unclear whether this is included in the monthly fee or represents a separate cost.

Hydrogen Insight has reached out to Shell to confirm more details of this scheme, including price and availability of refuelling stations.

While hydrogen has often been raised as a solution for heavy-duty vehicles, with proponents citing longer ranges compared to batteries and faster refuelling time, uptake has been slow for numerous reasons.

Road freight firms have been reluctant to invest in high-capex new trucks that are likely to run on an extremely expensive fuel, in the short term at least, with most of the available H2 being highly polluting grey hydrogen made from unabated fossil gas — not to mention the limited number of refuelling points throughout Europe.

There are currently 90 operational hydrogen refuelling points in Germany and 167 across Europe, according to data from H2.Live, compiled by station developer and operator H2 Mobility.

This presents a circular problem for the sector, as a lack of refuelling infrastructure is often cited as a reason not to invest in hydrogen-based vehicles, leading to very few trucks on the road that these stations can actually serve.

In 2022, Shell quietly closed down all three of its refuelling stations in the UK.

While the oil major did not cite a lack of demand as its reason, its green H2 supply partner on these sites, ITM Motive, noted that its refuelling sites were “not performing satisfactorily” while “the footprint available is too small to accommodate upgrade for larger vehicles and future technology”.

However, the EU’s newly approved Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR) requires at least one hydrogen refuelling station — capable of providing at least one tonne of H2 per day at 700 bar — every 200 kilometres along the core routes of the planned Trans-European Transport Network by 2030 and in every major urban area.

This is expected to result in hundreds more hydrogen filling stations in Europe by the start of next decade — easing the problem of availability, although cost of the fuel and high upfront cost for switching to fuel-cell vehicles is likely to remain a challenge.

(This story was first published on Upstream's sister hydrogen news website, Hydrogen Insight.)