Investing in Hydrogen Fuel: The Carbon-Neutral Alternative to EVs
Hydrogen fuel has long been viewed as a dubious investment, with many believing it to be a dead-end technology. However, there are automakers who remain optimistic about its potential as an alternative to battery-powered electric vehicles (EVs) in our quest for a carbon-neutral future. One such believer is BMW, who, along with their partner Toyota, asserts that hydrogen fuel cell cars could coexist harmoniously with traditional EVs. Toyota, in particular, takes an innovative approach by utilizing hydrogen (H₂) to power an internal combustion engine.
Toyota and BMW have already begun testing prototypes of hydrogen-fueled versions of their popular models, the GR Yaris and GR Corolla, during various races. In a bid to further explore hydrogen-burning combustion engines for smaller vehicles, Toyota recently joined forces with Japanese partners Honda, Suzuki, and Kawasaki. This collaboration aims to develop engines for “small mobility” purposes and will present a mockup of an off-roader called the “HySE-X1” at the prestigious 2023 Japan Mobility Show. The ultimate goal is for this versatile vehicle to compete in the grueling 2024 Dakar Rally.
The HySE-X1 is powered by a supercharged inline-four engine with a displacement of 1.0 liter. This liquid-cooled engine, equipped with 16 valves, generates an undisclosed amount of power in a vehicle weighing approximately 3,306 pounds (1,500 kilograms). The overall dimensions of the HySE-X1, according to Toyota and Honda, measure 139 inches (3,530 millimeters) in length, 81.5 inches (2,070 mm) in width, and 67 inches (1,700 mm) in height.
Derived from “Hydrogen Small Mobility & Engine,” the HySE moniker symbolizes the ingenious hydrogen-powered technology behind this exceptional vehicle. The chassis, meticulously developed by Belgium-based Overdrive Racing, has been extensively modified to accommodate the hydrogen fuel tank and the fuel supply system.
Furthermore, the HySE-X1 will participate in the “Mission 1000” Challenge in Saudi Arabia from January 5 to 19, 2024. Acting as a laboratory to promote and test energy-efficient powertrains, whether hydrogen, electric, or biofuel, this program primarily focuses on assessing the capabilities of cars, bikes, and trucks. While initially non-competitive, the organizers aspire to transform “Mission 1000” into a full-fledged race in the future.
It is worth noting that hydrogen-burning combustion engines are not a novel concept. The well-known BMW Hydrogen 7 (E65), produced in limited numbers during the mid-2000s, featured a V12 engine that operated on both hydrogen and gasoline. However, due to its exclusivity (only 100 units were manufactured), the Hydrogen 7 never entered series production. These exclusive units were distributed among select individuals to test and raise awareness about hydrogen-burning combustion engines.
The Hydrogen 7 succeeded the relatively obscure 7 Series Hydrogen prototype (E38) from 2000, also powered by a V12 engine. In 2023, BMW continues to explore hydrogen fuel cell technology with their iX5 experimental prototypes, which forsake the traditional internal combustion engine in favor of a fuel cell hydrogen setup.
In conclusion, while hydrogen fuel investment has often been dismissed as a futile endeavor, pioneers like BMW and Toyota remain resolute in their belief in its potential. By actively developing hydrogen-burning combustion engines and supporting hydrogen fuel cell technology, these automakers seek to provide a viable and carbon-neutral alternative to electric vehicles. As the automotive industry progresses in its pursuit of sustainability, the outcome of their endeavors could prove pivotal in shaping the future of transportation.