Several Japanese automakers are expanding the use of hydrogen internal combustion engines

Subaru, Mazda, Toyota, Kawasaki and Yamaha recently announced a joint effort to expand the use of alternative fuel technologies, including hydrogen combustion engines.

The effort builds on Toyota’s use of hydrogen engines in racing. The automaker previously entered a Corolla Sport hatchback with a hydrogen engine (developed with help from Yamaha) in the Japanese Super Taikyu series. The hydrogen will be supplied by a new facility in the city of Fukuoka, Japan, which will produce hydrogen from wastewater biogas, according to a press release.

The hydrogen racing car will soon be joined by others using different fuels. Mazda will offer a biodiesel-powered Demio sedan, while modified versions of the Subaru BRZ and Toyota GR 86 sports car twins will use synthetic fuel derived from biomass.

Fukuoka City, Japan, hydrogen plant

Meanwhile, Kawasaki and Yamaha will look into joint research on hydrogen combustion engines for two- and four-wheeled vehicles. The two companies, as well as Honda and Suzuki, have already teamed up for the exchange of electric motorcycle batteries.

Honda is conspicuously absent from this deal, despite having been a major proponent of hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars. Nissan and its ally Mitsubishi are also missing, although neither manufacturer has shown much interest in hydrogen, either for fuel cells or combustion engines.

Burning hydrogen in a combustion engine instead of gasoline or diesel is not a new idea. BMW has already produced the Hydrogen 7, a version of its 7 Series flagship with a hydrogen V-12 combustion engine. But the idea seems to be gaining more interest lately.

Toyota hydrogen engine

Toyota hydrogen engine

Chinese automaker GAC also recently announced that it is testing a hydrogen combustion engine, although it is unclear if the engine will reach production. Even if so, GAC’s previously discussed plans to enter the US market have been postponed indefinitely.

It should be noted that the internal combustion of hydrogen poses many problems, in particular the storage of a sufficient quantity of hydrogen on board a car to achieve sufficient autonomy. Burning hydrogen still produces tailpipe emissions, and automakers face the same infrastructure issues as fuel cell vehicles.

Hydrogen combustion engines may also prove less efficient than fuel cell powertrains. The efficiency of fuel cells is such an advantage that it could lead them to price parity with gasoline by 2025, according to a 2020 California Energy Commission report.

Kevin A. Perras