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Toyota’s GR Yaris experiments with a hydrogen combustion engine

Alternatively fueled cars are rising in popularity. While hybrids and electric cars are winning that particular race, hydrogen cars have languished at the back of the pack. In 2014, Toyota cornered the market with the Mirai—an electric car which charges using a hydrogen fuel cell— but hydrogen simply hasn’t gained popularity like electric cars in recent years.

Toyota is looking to change that. The Japanese automaker has been working to improve its hydrogen technology, pushing the limits to find how this versatile fuel can be used to power the cars of tomorrow. Toyota’s newest tests explore using hydrogen in a combustion engine instead of a traditional fuel such as gasoline or diesel. Toyota, after years of tests with this rather unorthodox power source, has placed its hydrogen tech in its rowdy hot hatch, the GR Yaris.

The automaker began its experiments with a hydrogen combustion engine in 2017. But it only recently gave a public glimpse of the engine’s prospects when it used the engine as the heart of its Corolla Sport Super Taikyu race car. In May, Toyota sent the Corolla to compete in a 24-hour endurance race where it racked up more than 930 miles on hydrogen power.

Although Toyota hasn’t revealed the engine’s specifications, it claims that the engine is more responsive due to the faster-burning nature of hydrogen when compared to gasoline.

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

In a hydrogen-powered Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV), hydrogen doesn’t provide direct power to the wheels. Instead, the fuel cell acts like a generator by forcing hydrogen and oxygen to chemically react, producing only electricity and water—no tailpipe pollution. An onboard battery then stores the electricity and, much like a modern Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV), the energy is used to power onboard electric motors. The benefit of a FCEV over a traditional BEV is the time required to completely refuel the vehicle. Depending on the charger, a battery-powered car might take hours to completely fill a drained battery, whereas a hydrogen-powered FCEV’s tanks can be refueled in minutes at a hydrogen fueling station.

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