When most people think of hydrogen in the automotive space in 2022, they likely think about fuel cells, which convert hydrogen gas into electricity for propulsion. But that's not the only way hydrogen can be used to power a car, as one of Toyota's latest concept vehicles proves.
Toyota this week unveiled theHydrogen Concept. Unlike other hydrogen-powered vehicles, this concept does not use a traditional fuel cell. Instead, this car uses the 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-3 combustion engine from the , which has been modified to use compressed hydrogen instead of gasoline. So, it still follows the same combustion cycle as a gas engine -- fuel and air enter the cylinder, is compressed, then ignited, then removed -- just with a different fuel.
While this is Toyota's first foray into this technology in road cars, it's not the automaker's first time using compressed hydrogen as a combustion fuel. Toyota already has a hydrogen-combustion engine in use in Japan's Super Taikyu endurance racing series, and their efforts have already borne fruit. Over time, Toyota's hydrogen race car has brought its performance to near parity with a traditional gas combustion engine, and filling times have dropped from roughly 5 minutes to about 90 seconds.
This may seem a little convoluted on its face, but there are benefits to running hydrogen instead of gasoline as a combustion fuel. Burning hydrogen doesn't result in the same noxious emissions as burning gasoline, and ditching electric propulsion means skipping over expensive materials such as lithium and nickel. Toyota believes this tech could actually speed up zero-emissions adoption for these reasons.
Of course, there's a long way to go before this is a viable road technology. Toyota believes it's about 40% of the way to creating a viable purchasable solution. The Corolla Cross Hydrogen Concept will help Toyota get closer to 100%, starting with winter testing in northern Japan this year.