With the constant din of traffic noise from London’s M25 orbital motorway and the smell of diesel wafting in the air, Cobham service station in Surrey does not feel like a frontier in the clean energy revolution. Yet, it is here that Britain will get its first public filling station for hydrogen-powered cars on Wednesday as part of a bet by Royal Dutch Shell on a technology vying with battery-powered electric vehicles to replace fossil fuels in road transportation. Shell is already part of a public-private consortium planning 400 hydrogen filling stations across Germany by 2023, together with partners including its French rival Total. The Cobham facility marks the start of a wider effort to support growth of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in north-west Europe. “We see more carmakers putting focus on hydrogen and the first vehicles are beginning to arrive in key markets, particularly Japan, Germany and California,” says Matthew Tipper, head of new fuels at Shell. “That gives us confidence to begin building out infrastructure.” Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have so far struggled to gain momentum in the race with battery-powered cars to become the dominant challenger to the internal combustion engine. The faltering progress was epitomised by Toyota’s recall last week of its entire global fleet of 2,800 Mirai hydrogen vehicles to fix a software glitch.