By: Scott Way
Yamaha Motors and the Toyota Motor Corporation have partnered to develop a hydrogen engine for potential automotive and marine applications. The joint effort will focus on the development of a 5.0-liter V8 engine with 100% hydrogen power.
The objective, according to both corporations, is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
The move towards alternative power has been sweeping across the automotive and marine industries in recent years. The transition towards electric power has been spearheaded by major players like Mercury, who recently launched the Avator electric outboard. Other options borne out of the automotive industry are also making headway, like the potential for turbine engines to replace piston-driven outboards.
Yamaha Motor President Yoshihiro Hidaka did caution that the company isn't yet moving away from its roots, stating that, “at the same time, ‘Motor’ is in our company name and we accordingly have a strong passion for and level of commitment to the internal combustion engine.”
However, this is not Toyota's first foray into hydrogen power for marine use. In 2020, the company designed a hydrogen fuel cell for the Toyota Energy Observer, a converted racing catamaran currently in the midst of a 6-year trip around the world. The vessel uses a mix of renewable energies and on-board systems that produce carbon-free hydrogen from the seawater.
Development for the V8 hydrogen engine began in November 2021 when five major corporations -- Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Subaru Corporation, Toyota Motor Corporation, Mazda Motor Corporation, and Yamaha Motor -- announced a joint effort to develop alternative fuel options for internal combustion engines.
Yamaha and Toyota, for their part, began working around the 5.0 L V8 big block engine platform, which was developed by Yamaha for the Lexus RC F sport coupe, which is owned by Toyota. Modifications to the standard gas-powered engine included changes to the injectors, cylinder heads, and intake manifold. The engine delivers up to 450 hp at 6800 rpm and 540 Nm of torque at 3600 rpm, which are below gas-powered contemporaries, but offers upsides like reduced maintenance, lower overhead, and a quieter ride. Other car manufacturers like Renault have also recently unveiled hydrogen prototypes. The increasing overlap between the automotive and marine industries, like GM‘s purchase of Pure Watercraft, means hydrogen technology is likely headed to transoms in the near future.
At a public unveiling in Japan in November 2021, Yamaha President Hidaka stated that “teaming up with companies with different corporate cultures and areas of expertise as well as growing the number of partners we have is how we want to lead the way into the future.”
This was reiterated by Takeshi Yamada, a member of Yamaha's Technical Research & Development Center, who stated, “hydrogen engines have an innately friendly feel that makes them easy to use even without resorting to electronic driving aids... I started to believe that there is actually enormous potential in the characteristics unique to hydrogen engines instead of simply treating it as a substitute for gasoline.”
“This is a challenge we can sink our teeth into as engineers and I personally want to pursue not just performance but also a new allure for the internal combustion engine that the world has yet to see,” added Yamada.
The potential for hydrogen engines in the automotive industry is evolving, but it still lags behind existing gas-powered options. A hydrogen powered Toyota Corolla ran in the 2021 Fuji 24 Hours endurance race, but at a pace significantly behind gas-powered racers. The objective was to complete the course while remaining carbon neutral, which Toyota accomplished by running a modified Corolla using compressed hydrogen inside a turbocharged 1.6 litre 3-cylinder engine.
One of the potential upsides is the similarity in sound between hydrogen and gas-powered engines. Other alternatives like turbines are more efficient, but their high RPM ranges are extremely loud. They also produce noise at a higher frequency. Hydrogen engines, meanwhile, sound similar to gas-powered engines but don’t produce carbon emissions. For boaters who enjoy the gravelly rumble of a well-torqued engine at their stern, the hydrogen engine may be more appealing when cruising into the sunset.