Massive oil and gas companies don't usually give away free gas, but Royal Dutch Shell Plc. (NYSE: RDS.A) will be making some Southern California drivers very happy, at least if they drive hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEV).

Shell opened a new 24-hour demonstration hydrogen fueling station in Newport Beach, Calif., Thursday, where it will give free hydrogen gas to between 10 and 12 drivers each day. Each driver will have a unique access code to operate the pumps.

"Demonstration hydrogen filling stations allow us to evaluate a range of different technologies and learn valuable lessons about costs, consumer behavior and how to dispense it efficiently to different vehicles," Shell said.

Only around 200 FCEVs operate in California, according to the L.A. Times. Shell is giving the hydrogen away to drivers of fuel-cell powered cars because the California Division of Measurement Standards cannot currently regulate fuel sold in kilograms, which is the standard unit of measure for hydrogen gas. The sale of hydrogen gas should be legal by 2015 when Gov. Jerry Brown told regulators they must have infrastructure for alternative-fuel vehicles in place.

"To reduce costs and achieve its commercial potential, hydrogen requires considerable cooperation between fuel providers, car makers, equipment suppliers and governments," California Air and Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols said.

The new Shell hydrogen-fuel station is only the eighth hydrogen gas station in California, according to the L.A. Times. Seven of the eight are in Southern California. The state plans to have 68 hydrogen gas fueling stations throughout the state.

The state of California expects there to be as many as 50,000 FCEV vehicles on its roads within the next five years, according to Fuel Cell Today. California has become a center for fuel-cell powered vehicles because of strong air quality legislation and incentives for alternative-fuel vehicles.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc. (NYSE: RDS.A) shares were flat at $68.65 Thursday morning.