Hydrogen Cars: How Toyota Wants to Revive the Hydrogen Burner

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Hydrogen for fuel cells in cars is now normal for Toyota. The Mirai is already producing electricity on board with the technology in the second generation. Now Japan’s largest car maker wants to make an old H2 dream come true that BMW has long dreamed of: the hydrogen combustion engine.

20 years ago the Bavarian car manufacturer sent a small fleet of BMW 7s, which could burn hydrogen in their engines, on the “CleanEnergy WorldTour”. In Japan, too, the cars caused a sensation in the media, but without ever making a breakthrough in the market. Because the automobiles that could burn both hydrogen and gasoline never paid off. But the earlier failure does not prevent the Japanese from putting the idea on the road again, of all things, in the electric car boom.

More precisely, the offensive by Stromer is a reason for Toyota’s attempts to revive the technology. Because although the group is finally getting serious about electric cars, it is anti-camouflaging worldwide for the right to exist for CO₂-neutral burners and synthetic fuels – and against a narrowing of technology paths to pure electric cars.

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As a promotional measure, Toyota therefore presented a rally car this year that is powered by hydrogen explosions. The company explained the initiative, which was pushed through from above, to develop the technology through racing. After all, the hydrogen burner is a top priority.

CEO Akio Toyoda himself drove the vehicle under its racing synonym “Driver Morizo” the copy across the racetrack. The fact that this technology is criticized as inefficient does not seem to bother him. His heart is still beating in a cylinder.

Instead, the group advertises that combustion in hydrogen engines is faster than in gasoline engines. This is reflected in a good response behavior. And even more: “Hydrogen engines not only have an excellent environmental balance, but can also convey driving pleasure, among other things through noise and vibrations.”

Japan’s leading carmaker has even won the smaller Japanese manufacturers Subaru and Mazda as well as the motorcycle manufacturer Yamaha and the heavy industry group Kawasaki Heavy as partners for its campaign. In November, the team set up an initiative with a specific goal: to “go beyond electrification and offer a wider range of uses for internal combustion engines”.

Whether the participants support the idea out of their own conviction or just to please their major shareholder and partner Toyota is an open question. After all, the car manufacturers undertake to use environmentally friendly combustion engines in the Japanese Taikyu rally series.

Mazda wants to burn biodiesel, Subaru and Toyota rely on synthetic fuels made from biomass. Toyota wants to put hydrogen burners into the race again with Yamaha, while Yamaha is to develop hydrogen burners for Yamaha motorcycles with KHI. In the future, the team could also be joined by the other two major Japanese motorcycle giants Honda and Suzuki.

More from MIT Technology Review

More from MIT Technology Review

More from MIT Technology Review

More from MIT Technology Review

Together they want to investigate whether motorcycles with internal combustion engines can also drive CO2-neutrally. So they probably hope to be able to save their vast know-how in classic engine technology, at least in niches, into the era of electrified drives.


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