Photo/Illutration Corolla H2 Concept, right, a Toyota Motor Corp. automobile equipped with a hydrogen engine, is driven by Toyota President Akio Toyoda in a 24-hour endurance racing event on May 22 at Fuji International Speedway in Oyama, Shizuoka Prefecture. (Takuro Chiba)

Toyota Motor Corp. is on the fast track in the search for partners to help achieve the realization of a more carbon-free society: competing in auto racing with hydrogen-powered engines.

In a five-hour endurance racing event held between July 31 and Aug. 1, Toyota for the first time utilized as fuel hydrogen produced with terrestrial heat by a major contractor.

“What is most needed now is teaming up with more parties,” said Toyota President Akio Toyoda.

Using automobiles powered by hydrogen to emit little carbon dioxide, Toyota is building a hydrogen supply network to cover the process from producing the energy source to transporting it.

In May, Toyota made its first appearance in the 24-hour endurance competition at Fuji International Speedway in Oyama, Shizuoka Prefecture, with its Corolla H2 Concept, the hydrogen-powered version of its Corolla Sport model.

Hydrogen vehicles burn hydrogen instead of gas to fuel their engines.

The Corolla H2 Concept made it to the finish line running on hydrogen generated with solar power at a hydrogen manufacturing center in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, which is known as the Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field (FH2R).

An objective of Toyota’s taking part in such races is contributing to the long-term development of hydrogen engines.

In a five-hour endurance event at the Autopolis course in Hita, Oita Prefecture, Toyota succeeded in curbing hydrogen detonation combustion to improve engine performance. Hydrogen ingestion had previously taken five minutes but the time was reduced to three minutes owing to an increased hydrogen flow rate.

Hydrogen generated geothermally and by other means is injected as fuel on July 31 at Autopolis in Hita, Oita Prefecture. (Jumpei Miura)


The event utilized hydrogen locally made in the prefecture’s Kokonoe, where leading contractor Obayashi Corp. in July this year installed Japan’s first plant to extract hydrogen from water with electricity deriving from geothermal energy.

Power is produced by vapor coming from the ground at the facility, so that water can be broken down into hydrogen with generated electricity.

At the plant site, another company started a geothermal power generation project some eight years ago.

Although it was confirmed that vapor was being emitted, preparing an environment for thermal energy conversion is a problem in a mountainous area since a limited amount of electricity can be transmitted through cables there. This makes it difficult to distribute produced power to elsewhere from the area.

With that in mind, Obayashi leased the site for turning generated power into hydrogen and transporting the substance to surrounding areas in the Kyushu region by land on a trial basis.

Selling not electricity but hydrogen, Obayashi is looking to provide the energy source for local and other businesses to operate hydrogen stations as well as forklifts and vessels powered by fuel cells.

While wind and solar power generation, combined with other such kinds of means using renewable energy, is easily affected by weather conditions, geothermal power production is expected to be a stable source of power.

Japan is regarded as one of the countries most abundant in thermal energy resources, but that sort of power generation has yet to be widely accepted. A challenge is that many such power facilities sit deep in mountains that are not home to high-performance electricity distribution networks.

“Converting power into hydrogen has created the new value of making the energy source distributable to other places,” said Kiyoshi Shima, head of Obayashi’s smart energy solution department, who is in charge of the development program.

Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda, left, and Obayashi Corp. President Kenji Hasuwa attend a news conference on July 31 at Autopolis in Hita, Oita Prefecture, before an endurance race. (Jumpei Miura)


In the Hita competition, geothermally generated hydrogen accounted for 30 percent of the fuel. Hydrogen from not only FH2R but also a solar power facility within Toyota Motor Kyushu Inc.’s Miyata Plant in Miyawaka, Fukuoka Prefecture, was also utilized.

Explaining the purpose of the effort, Toyoda, who served as a driver of a hydrogen-powered vehicle, told a news conference before the event that the automaker will work to “settle problems made clear (through racing) with an eye on offering more options for technologies linked to renewable energy.”

He also announced during the news conference plans to cooperate with Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. in hydrogen transport for an endurance race scheduled at Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, in September.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries is famed for its development of the world’s first liquid hydrogen transport vessel. It is planning to transport hydrogen from Australia, using the craft.

“What is important is all industries’ working together to make, carry and utilize it (hydrogen),” said Toyoda.