Toyota developing hydrogen engine technology via motorsports – just like ICE, but with H and zero CO2

Toyota has always been one of the biggest proponents of hydrogen power in the car industry. While the electric source for EVs is often derived from non-renewable energy sources such as coal (which ironically is not good for the environment), hydrogen is abundant and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) emit nothing but water. The hydrogen FCEV Toyota Mirai is in its second generation now.

But the focus here isn’t the type of FCEV tech used in the Mirai, but something a little bit more traditional. Toyota has announced that it is developing a hydrogen engine, and the powerplant has been installed in a race car based on the Corolla Sport. The racer will compete under the ORC Rookie Racing banner starting with the Super Taikyu Series 2021 Round 3 NAPAC Fuji Super TEC 24 Hours Race in May.

Note the word engine. FCEVs like the Mirai use a fuel cell in which hydrogen chemically reacts with oxygen in the air to produce electricity, which powers an electric motor. Hydrogen engines generate power through the combustion of hydrogen using fuel supply and injection systems that have been modified from the a petrol-powered internal combustion engine. Essentially, this is an ICE that’s powered by hydrogen instead of petrol.

Toyota says that except for the combustion of minute amounts of engine oil during driving, which is also the case with gasoline engines by the way, hydrogen engines emit zero CO2 when in use.

The carmaker adds that combustion in hydrogen engines occurs at a faster rate than in gasoline engines, resulting in good responsiveness. While being great for the environment, hydrogen engines also have “the potential to relay the fun of driving” including through the sounds and vibrations that car enthusiasts love.

The hydrogen-engine-powered race car is to be fuelled during races using hydrogen produced at the Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field in Namie, Fukushima prefecture. While aiming to expand hydrogen infrastructure by promoting hydrogen use, this move will also be good for the economic recovery and revitalisation of the Tohoku region, which was hit by the epic earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

There’s no better testbed than racing, which is why Toyota is honing this work in progress in motorsports. When it comes to hydrogen-related safety, the big T will apply the tech and know-how that it has accumulated through the development of FCEVs and the commercialisation of the Mirai.

The concept and feel of the good old ICE, but with zero CO2 emissions – this win-win tech sounds too good to be true, but it is. Here’s hoping that all goes to plan and this hydrogen engine takes off. Best wishes and thank you, Toyota.

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