Toyota debuts hydrogen-powered Corolla race car as auto racing moves away from gas guzzlers

OYAMA, Japan. At a circuit near Mount Fuji, the modest liquid hydrogen-powered Corolla debuted at the race, aiming to bring futuristic technology to the racing world and demonstrate Toyota’s commitment to green vehicles.

Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda, resplendent in his fireproof racing uniform, was all smiles as he prepared to whiz around the track in a hydrogen-powered Corolla.

“This is the world’s first liquid hydrogen car race. Hopefully this will offer another option in the fight against global warming. To make everyone smile, I want to go one lap, even one second, more,” said Toyoda, a former Toyota CEO, grandson of the automaker’s founder and a licensed racer himself.

A hydrogen-powered Corolla race car isn’t coming to your dealership anytime soon. Toyota officials said the Super Taikyu 24-hour race at Fuji Speedway was just a technology test.

Unlike electric vehicles, it has an internal combustion engine, but burns liquid hydrogen instead of gasoline.

Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp., which sells about 10 million vehicles a year, has lagged behind the global shift to battery-powered electric cars, but has for years touted hydrogen as a potentially carbon-neutral solution.

Experts say that hydrogen has great potential. But to date, most hydrogen, including the fuel used in the Corolla race car, is produced using fossil fuels such as natural gas.

Rising fuel prices and concerns about global warming have forced the search for alternative energy sources, especially in Japan, which imports almost all of its oil.

The car race began to leave snarling gas guzzlers. Toyota rival Honda Motor Co. recently said it is returning to Formula 1, saying the new regulations are an opportunity to explore new technologies. Other automakers, including General Motors Co., have made similar commitments.

Pierre Fillon, president of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, which organizes Le Mans, announced at an event last week that the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s most famous endurance race, will be open to hydrogen-powered cars using both fuel cells. and internal combustion engines from 2026.

“For me, hydrogen is a very interesting future solution,” Filon told reporters. “We have to move to emission-free mobility.” This is very important for our planet and our children.

Toyota CEO Koji Sato said he expects to announce Toyota’s participation in Le Mans soon.

“There is nothing ‘ungreen’ about an internal combustion engine. It’s the fuel it uses that matters,” Heywood said.

The hydrogen used in Toyota’s race car is produced at a coal gasification plant in Australia and is being supplied by Japanese energy company Iwatani Corp. as part of a Japanese government-backed project to promote the use of hydrogen in a variety of industries, including those that use fossil fuels.

Green hydrogen is produced when renewable energy sources power an electric current that flows through water, electrolyzing its hydrogen and oxygen molecules. The process does not produce planet-warming carbon dioxide, but it currently accounts for less than 0.1% of global hydrogen production, according to the IEA.

Critics say it may be better to use that renewable energy instead of using it to make hydrogen. But hydrogen advocates say even those made from natural gas can be environmentally friendly when the carbon dioxide emissions are captured and buried underground.

Sato accepted the challenge.

“First we need to create an environment for hydrogen use. For hydrogen to be widespread, that environment has to be robust, and it’s important that the cycle of that system works at all stages, including its transportation and production,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the race.

In addition to the benefits of hydrogen, there are other pitfalls.

In March, a Toyota car powered by liquid hydrogen caught fire during a test run for a race at the Suzuka circuit, home to the Formula 1 Grand Prix and other races.

The hydrogen leaked from the pipe, loosened by the vehicle’s vibration, and the leak sensor worked properly, shutting off the hydrogen in less than a tenth of a second. According to Toyota, no one was injured, the cab was protected and the fire was extinguished.

Of the dozens of cars competing in the Fuji Speedway 24 Hours, Toyota’s No. 32 Corolla was destined to lose. Refueling and pit checks, so important to the race, took minutes – an eternity in a race where competitors are fighting for seconds.

Still, liquid hydrogen’s debut in racing could be a small step forward, said Tomoya Takahashi, president of Toyota Gazoo Racing Co.

“This is about building the future. Electric cars are not the only answer and the internal combustion engine has potential,” he said.


Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter at


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