Toyota, Kawasaki pool efforts to build, promote hydrogen engines

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda, right, and Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. President Yasuhiko Hashimoto drive an off-road vehicle equipped with a hydrogen engine for motorcycles on Sept. 3 in Motegi, Tochigi Prefecture.

Toyota Motor Corp. is collaborating with major motorcycle manufacturer Kawasaki Motors Corp. to develop hydrogen engines for motorcycles and expand their use in and outside of Japan.

While moving full-steam ahead with the commercialization of eco-friendly vehicles, Toyota aims to share data and issues with the motorcycle industry, a move the auto giant believes will speed up the development of hydrogen engines for cars and bikes alike.

Beyond boundaries

Earlier this month, Toyota President Akio Toyoda drove a hydrogen-powered off-road vehicle at the Mobility Resort Motegi circuit in Tochigi Prefecture during a demonstration unveiling the car.

The hydrogen engine installed in the vehicle is for a motorcycle developed by Kawasaki Motors Corp. — Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd.’s subsidiary responsible for the motorcycle division. The company developed the engine in cooperation with Toyota, Denso Corp. and other companies.

“There should be a variety of options to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” Toyoda told reporters at the event. “I hope the government will support the output by technological innovations like this, rather than stopping us with regulations.”

The hydrogen engine is a modified version of an engine for the Ninja H2, a large motorcycle manufactured by Kawasaki. The company has installed the unit in four-wheeled vehicles sold by the motorcycle manufacturer in North America and other markets. Parts and other components are the same as those used in the hydrogen-powered Toyota Corolla.

Kawasaki said the firm joined the project after being prompted by Toyoda’s call to work together beyond the boundaries of motorcycles and automobiles. The design process began in earnest in December.

The company intends to use the technology to decarbonize motorcycles along with Suzuki Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Yamaha Motor Co., Japan’s other major motorcycle manufacturers.

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
A Kawasaki Motors official explains the hydrogen engine for motorcycles.

Liquefaction technology

A hydrogen engine burns hydrogen instead of gasoline, and no CO2 is emitted except for the combustion of engine oil. Unlike fuel cell vehicles, which run on electricity generated from hydrogen to power the motor, the basic structure of a hydrogen-engine vehicle is the same as that of a gas-powered car, so Japanese manufacturers can apply the parts and technologies they have already developed.

Toyota’s hydrogen-engine vehicle completed the five-hour endurance races held at the Motegi course on Sept. 3 to 4. One year has passed since its entry in the races last May, and the vehicle’s output has surpassed that of gasoline-powered vehicles in the same class.

“The landscape has definitely changed over the past year,” Toyota’s Operating Officer Koji Sato told reporters on Sept. 4. “There are difficulties, but it’s now clear what we need to do.”

In order to increase the driving distance, Toyota is also working on technology to use hydrogen in liquid form rather than a gas, as is currently the case. The volume of liquid hydrogen is 1/800th of that of its gas, creating the possibility of loading the tank with much more fuel.

Although temperature control and other issues remain, test-drives of a vehicle equipped with the system have been done on a track, with the aim of participating in races before the year’s end.

Raising awareness

However, the commercialization of hydrogen-engine vehicles faces many obstacles. The engines and vehicles need to be developed further, the number of hydrogen stations must be increased, and laws and regulations need to be improved.

Toyota does not want hydrogen-engine vehicles to be limited to Japan, so the company needs to collaborate with foreign firms and organizations.

Although professional race drivers say that hydrogen-engine vehicles are no different from gasoline-engine cars, such vehicles are largely unknown in Europe and the United States.

What can be done to raise awareness?

In August, Toyota demonstrated a hydrogen-powered vehicle at the World Rally Championship in Belgium. It was the first time the vehicle had been shown overseas, and Toyoda himself drove it in a demonstration.

The company said it will continue to promote the high performance of hydrogen-engine vehicles.

“As we continue such efforts, the press and public opinion have changed to recognize that hydrogen is an option for the future,” Toyoda told reporters. “First, we want people to see and feel” such vehicles.