NEW YORK – Royal Dutch Shell plc opens its second of a trio of hydrogen filling stations at JFK Airport, its first cluster anywhere for refueling General Motors Co.’s Project Driveway fleet.

Shell opened its first area hydrogen station in White Plains, NY, last year and the third will open later this month.

GM research-and-development chief Larry Burns, who was on hand for the opening, says there are 30 Chevrolet Equinox fuel-cell vehicles in New York that are part of the auto maker’s national fleet of 110 FCVs.

Shell's three stations are about 30 miles (48 km) from each other and will extend the range of the Equinoxes running in this area.

“This first cluster is an important step as we continue to build capability in retailing hydrogen fuel, in line with auto makers’ plans to develop hydrogen vehicles,” says Duncan Macleod, Shell vice president-hydrogen.

However, no auto maker other than GM currently is testing hydrogen-fueled vehicles in the area.

Shell manufactures hydrogen in White Plains with electrolysis but transports the gaseous fuel by truck to JFK.

Macleod says only that hydrogen costs “too much” when asked to compare Shell's expense in making hydrogen vs. gasoline and diesel.

No single fuel will be dominant for motor vehicle use in the future, he adds, “but hydrogen can be a key part in this mix.”

Burns, who will be retiring in a few months, says there are 170,000 fueling stations in the U.S. now servicing 250 million vehicles operating on the country’s 4 million miles (6.4 million km) of roads. GM is in a 10-year partnership with Shell to improve the hydrogen infrastructure in the U.S.

Burns has been a pioneer in the industry's effort to inaugurate the hydrogen era and continues to maintain that fuel cells are ready for commercialization.

“This is a good time for a new team of leaders (to take over commercialization of FCVs),” he says.

A key element in achieving that is continued government support of hydrogen programs, Burns adds.

GM has spent more than $1.5 billion over the last 14 years on hydrogen and FCV research, and Burns predicts there will be a “natural progression” from the 110 Equinox test vehicles to volume commercialization.

A revolution in auto manufacturing remains possible because GM's skateboard fuel-cell chassis, pioneered with the experimental AUTOnomy program and subsequent Hy-Wire and Sequel concept cars, is still alive, he says.

“The new DNA of the automobile will be electrically driven,” Burns says. He will travel to New Hampshire next week for a test drive in the next-generation PUMA concept that builds on the skateboard chassis. Segway Inc. cut the AUTOnomy chassis in half in creating the PUMA, he says.

Burns says despite GM's recent short trip into bankruptcy, the auto maker “has ample funding for advanced technology,” categorically rejecting any suggestion the company is reducing its R&D budget. GM's gross R&D funds have not been reduced because it has enlisted new partners in technology research.

“We can get more done with less spending by doing more partnering and joint ventures,” he says.