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Car Review | Toyota: Technology that the series draws from…

Olivier Dirard | July 11, 2024

precedence Toyota has a knowledge advantage in the field of hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines because the company began developing them eight years ago.

Toyota has a long history in fuel cell technology, having introduced the Mirai into series production in 2015 and since then developing it into a more compelling second generation. However, the Japanese manufacturer, which continues to pursue a multi-technology approach to mobility, is also very advanced in the field of hydrogen combustion engines. It is arguably one of the most advanced manufacturers in this field, with the Japanese company having years of experience in this area. In 2016, Toyota introduced a (partially) hydrogen-powered car. The company has achieved a lot since then. Some of its hydrogen racing prototypes – driven by Akio Toyoda, the Japanese company’s president, among others – have participated in various competitions around the world. The hydrogen technology has been tested in the standard Corolla Cross (AR 9/2023).

Toyota had to decide whether to go the hydrogen route at Le Mans. The answer? “As part of the WEC programme, we have chosen a hydrogen combustion engine,” confirms Pascal Vasselon, Toyota’s vice president of strategic development. “This engine is supported by a high-voltage electric machine,” he explains. “The reason for this is that we want these hydrogen cars to have the same level of performance as today’s supercars. Naturally, hydrogen models will be heavier than comparable models with combustion engines and will have a weight disadvantage.” This extra mass will have to be compensated for by better aerodynamics and better drive systems. However, hydrogen vehicles, which will compete in the supercar class alongside the LMH and LMDh classes, benefit from more open and lenient regulations, which could include, for example, active aerodynamics. So far, it is impossible to say what the final race car will look like, as Toyota only revealed a concept car at Le Mans last year that previewed the planned 2027 supercar. It is therefore impossible to say exactly what the technical details of the car will be.

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The Challenge of Pressure Tanks

However, among the challenges still to be overcome, Toyota, like Basil Aslan of ACO, also mentioned safety around pressure tanks. “A lot of energy and resources are currently being devoted to introducing regulations that ensure the safety of hydrogen systems, regardless of whether they are gaseous or liquid systems, depending on the solution chosen by the ACO,” says Vasilon. “The combustion engine itself is relatively safe. The problem, he stresses, lies in tank management and the potential leakage of hydrogen.

The second challenge to be solved before 2027 is reducing nitrogen oxide emissions. Although hydrogen combustion does not produce any CO2 emissions, it is not completely free of nitrogen oxides. “Our goal is to get emissions as close to zero as possible,” says Vasilone. For the engineer, the hydrogen-powered combustion engine is nothing less than the future of the automobile “for the next few decades,” he says. “The only reason for Toyota to compete is because it benefits road cars, and the mission of all motorsport programs is to build ever better cars. Driving on a racetrack is only good if it affects mobility on a larger scale.” So it is not a bold conclusion that Toyota will use the knowledge gained in endurance racing to develop series cars with a hydrogen combustion engine.