Hydrogen combustion engines are coming to the zero-emission vehicle party, and, in some cases, are dressed rather well for the occasion.
In the past week alone, Renault, Toyota and Yamaha have announced vehicles or engines that burn hydrogen instead of converting it to electricity with a fuel cell. On Feb. 17, Toyota and Yamaha said they are investing in hydrogen by working together on a hydrogen-powered 5.0 litre V8 engine. The following day, Renault teased a new concept car, to be revealed in May, that will feature a hydrogen combustion engine (HCE).
Renault provided very few details beyond a cool image that suggests the vehicle, styled by recently appointed design chief Gilles Vidal, is likely to be an SUV.
Yamaha said its recent hydrogen investments have resulted in an experimental engine delivers 449 bhp at 6,800 rpm and 398 lb-ft at 3,600 rpm, slightly below the petrol equivalent that is currently used in a Lexus RC F sports coupé. Importantly, it seems to make the people who drive it happy.
“Hydrogen engines have an innately friendly feel that makes them easy to use even without resorting to electronic driving aids,” Yamaha said. “Everyone who came to test drive the prototype car would start off somewhat sceptical but emerged from the car with a big smile on their face at the end.”
And this could be the key to the future of HCE passenger vehicles: enjoyment.
Fuel cells and batteries have advantages over HCEs in terms of efficiency and maintenance costs, but if you like the sound of a revving engine, they are also somewhat boring. Battery-electric racing has been described as rather sterile due to the lack of noise. Ferrari is still trying to work out how to retain its signature engine noise when it eventually launches an EV.
HCEs sound just like petrol engines but don’t produce any carbon emissions. If you drive a luxury car you’re probably not as concerned about cost as most, but you’re at least as likely to be worried about your environmental impact.
The technology to deliver high-performance HCE vehicles is already here.
Toyota last year entered an HCE-powered Corolla Sport hatchback into the Japanese Super Taikyu series. Kawasaki and Yamaha are looking into joint research on HCEs for two-wheeled and four-wheeled vehicles. Chinese automaker GAC Motor said in October it had successfully tested an HCE.
Hydrogen is all set to play a major part in the zero-emission future of passenger cars.
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