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Foster and Partners has applied its grand architectural vision to Wembley Stadium and given Britain landmark structures such as the Gherkin tower in the City and the Millennium suspension bridge across the Thames.
Now it is turning its attention to the humble filling station.
The design practice, co-founded by Sir Norman Foster, is working with Japanese carmaker Nissan on a new type of fuel station that will be aimed at electric vehicles.
Nissan said the two hoped to present a design later this year plus ways to harness the potential of battery storage and “vehicle-to-grid systems”, whereby electric cars discharge fuel back to the national power network.
“Our current refuelling infrastructure is outdated and faces an uncertain future unless it adapts,” said Jean-Pierre Diernaz, director of electric vehicles at Nissan.
The UK motor industry is undergoing a shift, albeit a slow one, towards electric vehicles. Battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles make up a fraction of new car sales in Britain, only passing 1 per cent of the total at the end of last year.
But the government has a high target, wanting every new car sold in the UK to be an ultra-low emission vehicle by 2040.
To support that, the Office for Low Emission Vehicles is expected to announce on Wednesday that it will extend a £5,000 grant for plug-in vehicles until the end of February, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The government has said the grants will be withdrawn once the UK has reached its target of 50,000 low-emission cars on the road. As of the end of last month, 36,000 all-electric and hybrid cars had been sold.
David Nelson, head of design at Foster and Partners, said: “It seems clear that electric vehicles will be a major feature of the urban landscape and, as a result, this presents an exciting opportunity to rethink the fuel station.”
But the announcement of the Nissan project was greeted with scepticism by some — particularly because many electric vehicle owners say they like the driving experience for freeing them from visiting petrol stations.
“There is no fuelling station in the future,” said Erik Fairbairn, founder and chief executive of Pod Point, a manufacturer and installer of electric vehicle charging points.
He added that 60 per cent of charging took place at owners’ homes and 30 per cent in the workplace. The remaining 10 per cent happened at street charging points or in places like supermarkets and supercharging stations, such as those run by Californian carmaker Tesla.
The Office for Low Emission Vehicles has a budget of £500m over the next five years — £200m of which is to support the plug-in car grant.
But only £32m of that is dedicated to infrastructure, despite its own report this month saying that recharging was the main factor deterring Britons from buying an electric vehicle.