Toyota Motor Corp. is focusing on the development of an engine that uses hydrogen as fuel as part of its efforts to expand the options for environmentally-friendly vehicles.
The automaker said it aims to utilize hydrogen in a way different from fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) that use electricity generated from hydrogen to power their motors.
Challenges for practical use of hydrogen include lowering costs, improving safety, and establishing sufficient infrastructure in terms of hydrogen stations, observers said.
This weekend, for the first time, Toyota used a hydrogen-engine vehicle to compete in a 24-hour Super Taikyu Series race in Shizuoka Prefecture, in which President Akio Toyoda participated as a driver.
Toyota planned to collect data in the harsh conditions of a hard race for use in future development.
The automaker, which has been making all-out efforts to develop a hydrogen engine vehicle since 2016, used some of the technology of the commercially available Mirai FCV for the car in the race.
Toward the decarbonization of vehicles, Toyota is conducting research and development in a wide range of fields for its cars that include not only hybrid vehicles (HVs) and electric vehicles (EVs) but also FCVs.
â€œOur goal is to be carbon-neutral, and there should be more than one path to the goal,â€ Toyoda said
Hydrogen engine vehicles emit water vapor when running, but do not emit carbon dioxide except for the incidental combustion of engine oil.
FCVs also emit only water, but their basic structure is different.
While FCVs use a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity to power the motor, hydrogen-engine vehicles burn hydrogen in the engine to generate power.
As with gasoline vehicles, the driver can feel the sound and vibration. Since hydrogen engine vehicles can utilize existing gasoline engine parts and technology, their production costs may be lower than those of FCVs in the future, sources said.
However, there are high technical hurdles to the practical application of hydrogen engines.
The use of hydrogen, which burns explosively, in the engine leads to quick acceleration, but hydrogen engines have lower fuel efficiency. Due to the hydrogen-burning at higher temperatures than gasoline inside the engine, the parts for hydrogen engine vehicles need to be more durable than those of gasoline vehicles.
The car industry has been developing hydrogen engines for many years. Mazda Motor Corp., for example, unveiled a prototype car with a hydrogen engine in 1991 and leased an HV with a hydrogen rotary engine to local governments in 2009.
Full-scale mass production has not been achieved so far because there have been few hydrogen refueling facilities.
The government has been encouraging the installation of hydrogen stations, but even now there are only about 150 stations of this kind nationwide. Mazda has frozen the development of its hydrogen engine.
â€œThere is a possibility [of using the hydrogen engine] when infrastructure improves,â€ Mazda President Akira Marumoto said.