Toyota trialling hydrogen engines in race cars

Toyota, which is working towards deploying a hydrogen engine in a commercial vehicle, has started testing hydrogen combustion engines in race cars.

Earlier this year, the Japanese automaker announced that, to play its part in the shift to a carbon-neutral society, it is in the process of developing a hydrogen engine. Rival automakers such as Ford and Honda are also exploring the technology as another zero-carbon alternative to conventional fossil fuel-based internal combustion engines.

Fuel cell electrified vehicles, such as Toyota’s Mirai, contain a fuel cell in which hydrogen reacts with oxygen to produce electricity to power an electric motor. However, hydrogen engines generate power through the combustion of hydrogen using fuel supply and injection systems similar to those found in conventional vehicles. Hydrogen engines burn hydrogen as their fuel, releasing no harmful products. A major advantage of hydrogen engines is that minimal adjustments are required from conventional internal combustion engines, aside from necessary changes to fuel piping and injection systems.

Hydrogen may offer some advantages over fossil fuel vehicles and battery EVs; hydrogen-powered engines have a good safety record, combustion is rapid (resulting in excellent responsiveness), hydrogen is abundant and can be easily stored and transported, and can be produced from water via electrolysis with zero CO2 emissions. Toyota has said it is producing hydrogen at a geothermal power station in southern Japan.

Toyota is testing hydrogen combustion engines in race cars, specifically in a Yaris with a 1.6L engine. At present, the two hydrogen tanks are fitted in the back seat area of the car.

It said that testing the technology in race cars will allow it to collect data and try fixing problems on-site.

“We want to propose multiple options to meet regional needs,” said Naoyuki Sakamoto, chief engineer of the hydrogen-powered Corolla model, in an online news conference. It is not known whether this particular engine is intended to become a commercial product.

Sakamoto said that further development is needed to address its limited range. Although hydrogen fuelling stations are operating across Japan, there are no plans to roll out hydrogen infrastructure comparable to those for building EV charging infrastructure, presenting a challenge for proponents of hydrogen engine-powered vehicles.

The Toyota engine is not strictly zero-emission, as it emits a “minute” amount of CO2 from the engine oil.

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