TOKYO – Toyota said Monday it is testing hydrogen combustion engines in racing cars as part of the technology’s use in commercial products.
Such engines burn hydrogen for fuel instead of gasoline, much like rockets. The Japanese automaker said testing the technology in race cars would allow it to collect data and try to troubleshoot issues on the spot.
Toyota Motor Corp. announced earlier that it was developing a hydrogen combustion engine, which Ford Motor Co. and other automakers have also developed. Vehicles powered by such engines are different from fuel cell vehicles which use hydrogen to generate electricity and electric or hybrid vehicles.
“We want to offer several options to meet regional needs,” Naoyuki Sakamoto, chief engineer of the Corolla hydrogen engine model, said at an online press conference.
Sakamoto declined to say when the hydrogen combustion engine might become a commercial product, acknowledging that further development is needed to address its so far limited range. Another obstacle is the infrastructure for refueling these vehicles. Toyota has not released the range or mileage for the technology
One of the advantages of hydrogen engines is that minimal adjustments are required for ordinary internal combustion engines, with the exception of fuel piping and injection systems.
There are some risks associated with using hydrogen as a fuel, but hydrogen refueling stations are operating across Japan with no major accidents so far.
Sakamoto said hydrogen is as safe as any other fuel on the roads today, noting that lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles have caused fires and hydrogen tanks are made of carbon fiber.
The latest hydrogen technology is being tested on a Yaris with a 1.6-liter engine for racing, according to Toyota.
Two hydrogen tanks are installed in the rear seat area of the race car, although this is subject to change for commercial models.
Hydrogen can offer certain advantages. Batteries for electric vehicles require various minerals, while hydrogen is relatively abundant in the environment and can be easily stored and transported.
Hydrogen can be created from water by electrolysis, often done in school chemistry experiments. Hydrogen can also be converted from solar energy for storage. But depending on the extent of this fuel, it could be much cheaper to refuel your car than gasoline, the prices of which fluctuate wildly. Toyota also said it was producing hydrogen at a geothermal power plant in southern Japan.
But the hydrogen engine is not 100% zero emissions, emitting a tiny bit of carbon dioxide from the engine oil. Toyota said it has developed technology to purify its nitrogen oxide, or NOx, emissions.
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