Toyota’s GR Yaris tests hydrogen combustion engine

Alternative fuel cars are growing in popularity. While hybrids and electric cars win this particular race, hydrogen cars are languishing at the back of the pack. In 2014, Toyota cornered the market with the Mirai, an electric car that recharges using a hydrogen fuel cell, but hydrogen just hasn’t gained in popularity like electric cars in recent years. years.

Toyota is looking to change that. The Japanese automaker has strived to improve its hydrogen technology, pushing the boundaries to find how this versatile fuel can be used to power the cars of tomorrow. Toyota’s latest tests explore the use of hydrogen in a combustion engine instead of a traditional fuel like gasoline or diesel. Toyota, after years of testing with this rather unorthodox power source, has put its hydrogen technology in its rowdy hot hatch, the GR Yaris.

The automaker began its experiments with a hydrogen combustion engine in 2017. But it wasn’t until recently that it gave public insight into the engine’s prospects when it used the engine as the heart of its racing car. Corolla Sport Super Taikyu. In May, Toyota sent the Corolla to participate in a 24-hour endurance race where it covered more than 930 miles on hydrogen.

[Related: Land Rover’s next Defender will run on hydrogen]

Now, for the Yaris, the automaker has tweaked the factory 1.6-liter 3-cylinder turbocharged engine, modifying its fuel and ignition systems to support the use of hydrogen. This means that the engine still works the same as a gasoline engine, pumping fuel into a cylinder of the engine and relying on the combustion process to create power.

Although Toyota has not disclosed the engine’s specifications, it does claim the engine is more responsive due to the faster-burning nature of hydrogen compared to gasoline.

Hydrogen-powered cars as a whole are still fairly new, and Toyota says this combustion technology is not yet ready for mainstream adoption. But consumers can already buy a battery-powered car from the automaker which is equipped with a hydrogen fuel cell, which charges the battery on the go.

In a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV), the hydrogen does not provide direct energy to the wheels. Instead, the fuel cell acts like a generator, forcing the hydrogen and oxygen to react chemically, producing only electricity and water, with no pollution from the tailpipes. An on-board battery then stores the electricity, and just like a modern battery-electric vehicle (BEV), the energy is used to power the on-board electric motors. The advantage of an FCEV over a traditional BEV is the time required to refuel the vehicle. Depending on the charger, a battery-powered car can take hours to fully fill a discharged battery, while the tanks of a hydrogen FCEV can be refueled in minutes at a hydrogen refueling station.

[Related: How It Works: The Toyota Mirai]

Toyota’s GR Yaris test bench has a downside compared to an FCEV, however. The combustion of hydrogen is a much less efficient process to produce energy compared to a car equipped with a fuel cell, and even less efficient compared to the combustion of gasoline. Toyota has not released details on the power or efficiency of the Yaris; However, hydrogen combustion engines have always been difficult to pack compared to gasoline engines, given the need for larger displacement to produce similar power.

A hydrogen combustion engine is also not as environmentally friendly as a hydrogen fuel cell. Toyota claims that Yaris produces “near zero tailpipe emissions,” which means that carbon dioxide and other gases can still be released as part of the combustion process by burning the oil used to lubricate the engine.

But there may be a place for this technology. Toyota’s enemy isn’t electric or gasoline-powered cars, it’s emissions. The emissions from a hydrogen combustion engine are negligible compared to a traditional gasoline car. And while the technology is not yet ready for the mainstream car buyer, Toyota is struggling to find out if it might ever be feasible. And while the technology doesn’t end up as a combustible fuel for the road, it can find a place in racing applications, alongside synthetic fuel, to keep the sound and spirit of the combustion engine alive.

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Kevin A. Perras