BMW April 2022

A group of Japanese vehicle manufacturers Ð Toyota, Subaru, Mazda, Kawasaki, and Yamaha Ð have banded together to explore new options for keeping internal combustion engines (ICE) alive in the face of a mad rush towards electrified vehicles (EVs).

The announcement was made at a joint media conference at a race circuit in Japan where Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s President was to race a Corolla fitted with an internal combustion engine modified to run on liquid hydrogen. (This is a joint project between Toyota and Yamaha).

The five companies say they will participate in races using carbon-neutral fuels, including exploring the use of hydrogen engines in two- and four-wheel vehicles.

Mazda and Toyota will co-operate in racing using a Mazda 1.5-litre Skyactiv-D engine powered by next-generation biodiesel, while Subaru and Toyota will work together to race in an endurance series using biomass-derived synthetic fuel. Meanwhile, Kawasaki and Yamaha will investigate joint research into hydrogen engine development for motorcycles. 

“By promoting further collaboration in producing, transporting and using fuel in combination with internal combustion engines the five companies aim to provide customers with greater choice,” said the five companies in a joint media release after the conference.

It is well known that Toyota and its president are making a point that electric vehicles are not the only way for the world to achieve carbon neutrality. Toyota not only believes technology such as developing hydrogen engines, can give ICE a new lease on life, saving millions of jobs in the global motor industry as well as saving the environment.

Toyoda, who is not only president of Toyota but also chairperson of Japan’s association of vehicle manufacturers, says he sees potentially overzealous green manufacturing goals as unsustainable. He says that a sudden switch to electric vehicles will undercut Japan’s industrial base and a pillar of its economy. He believes Japan needs a more creative approach to carbon reduction.

“Carbon dioxide not internal combustion is the enemy in achieving carbon neutrality,” says Toyoda. “It is necessary to have practical and sustainable initiatives that are in line with different situations in various countries and regions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”

Porsche is another important manufacturer which is pursuing methods of keeping ICE alive, with its main thrust currently being the use of synthetic fuel produced by renewable sources, in this case wind farms in Chile.

Ethanol fuel blends

Meanwhile South Africa currently faces several challenges in continuing to fuel more than 12 million vehicles on its roads with internal combustion engines, even as there is a drive to move away from fossil fuels. 

Rising cost and questions about availability as local refineries close are creating major headaches for the country as it struggles with an intermittent electricity supply. 

One of the ways to do this is to blend ethanol – locally produced from vegetable matter – into the petrol and diesel fuel. A programme to do this has been part of government planning for some time, with an updated version that was published earlier this year. However, as in the case of sustainable projects to produce electric power, the government continues to drag its feet as fuel prices continue to rise and ongoing fuel availability is questioned. Many countries in the world use ethanol blends and some even have vehicles with flex-fuel engines that can run various ethanol blends up to 100% pure ethanol. 

India is one of the latest countries to take this route and has mandated motor manufacturers to add biofuel compatible models to their ranges within six months. Not only does India see this as a way towards cutting imports, but a move that will also provide a big boost to the agricultural sector by using surplus sugarcane corn and wheat to produce the ethanol. Only 2% of the Indian transport sectors fuel requirements are currently met by biofuels.

The Indian government has ordered fuel stations to provide a network of ethanol-petrol pumps giving access to blends and pure ethanol (E100) that can be used in flex-fuel engines within the same period. Manufacturers are pushing for a 20% blend (E20) across the country.

The Indian report “Roadmap for Ethanol Blending in India,” states that although there is a 6-7% loss of fuel efficiency in four-wheelers using E20 fuel it should be considered that ethanol lowers the price of fuel substantially. A drop of 30% in price has been mooted for E100 fuel.

A recent article by the UK-based International Car Distribution Programme (ICDP) said that what might be right for Europe and China – such as a rapid swing to electrified vehicles – may not be right for all markets. It quotes research in Brazil saying that a resolute bio-fuelled future was best for that country, and this included the best CO2 outcome too.

Another source in Brazil said the optimal solution is a fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) which uses ethanol as the fuel, rather than hydrogen. It says this solution supports the agricultural sector and leverages developing fuel cell and EV technologies but avoids the costly and energy intensive process of producing hydrogen then safely transporting and storing it. Existing filling station infrastructure can supply the ethanol that can top up a car as we do today in minutes yet the car itself is an EV without a large, expensive, and heavy battery.

By Roger Houghton