The United States Postal Service will lease a fuel cell vehicle from General Motors to deliver mail in and around the nation’s capital.

As part of a two-year agreement, the service will use a GM minivan, powered by a fuel cell, the first such commercial application in the US.

“The Postal Service sees this as an important test for GM’s fuel cell vehicle. The ever-increasing cost of fuel and the need to protect our environment highlights the need to move forward with this initiative,” said the postal service’s engineering head Thomas Day.

“The US Postal Service is a perfect partner at this stage in fuel cell development,” said GM research head Larry Burns. “Unlike many fleets, USPS uses retail gas stations, yet provides new opportunities to prove out durability and performance. The Postal Service operates everywhere in the US, giving us maximum flexibility to expand the relationship in areas or regions where a hydrogen infrastructure gets kicked off.”

Routine delivery of the mail in local neighbourhoods also will help confirm the safety of fuel cell vehicles to the public, Burns said.

The postal service will begin using the fuel cell vehicle in September, which will coincide with the opening of the nation’s first hydrogen pump at a retail petrol station. Last year, GM and Shell Hydrogen announced a partnership to provide hydrogen for a GM fleet of fuel cell vehicles operating around Washington, DC.