Toyota’s Hydrogen-Burning Corolla Catches Fire

A liquid hydrogen-powered Toyota Corolla race car burst in flames during testing just days before its debut in the Super Taikyu series at Suzuka, but was eventually pulled ahead of the competition. The race car, owned and run by Toyota, suffered enough damage to its components that it had to be replaced for this weekend’s race by a gasoline-powered GR Yaris.

Related: Toyota’s Strategy to Pursue Hydrogen Combustion ‘Doesn’t Seem Feasible’- Honda CEO

Toyota has fielded a race vehicle with a gaseous hydrogen setup for the past two seasons, but this was the first time it ran a car with a liquid hydrogen-burning engine. The Japanese automaker has been developing regular petrol engines to run on hydrogen fuel, as opposed to hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles such as the Mirai and HiLux prototypes, which use hydrogen to generate electricity and power an electric motor.

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According to Toyota, a fire broke out in the engine bay of the Corolla during a private test conducted after the Fuji test. Toyota claims that vibrations caused piping to become loose and begin leaking hydrogen, which eventually ignited owing to the heat of the engine. The company claims the event is unrelated to the conversion from a gaseous hydrogen system to a liquid hydrogen system, implying it was a mechanical failure.

Related: Toyota’s Hydrogen Car Makes Successful Debut in Fuji 24 Hours Enduro 

Fortunately, Toyota claims that a “hydrogen leak sensor fail-safe functioned effectively,” allowing the driver to escape unharmed. The sensor’s role is to detect and instantly turn off the supply of hydrogen to the engine, and it was successful in preventing the fire from spreading from the engine bay to the cabin or other areas of the vehicle. Unfortunately, the damage was severe enough that the Corolla was forced to miss the season-opening race as well as a few others while the pipe design was assessed and modified.

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Notwithstanding the tragedy, Toyota has stated that it will continue to develop the vehicle with the goal of becoming the world’s first vehicle to race on liquid hydrogen fuel. The hydrogen-powered Toyota GR Corolla was previously raced by now-former Toyota President Akio Toyoda, who races as ‘Morizo,’ influencing the Morizo Edition road car.

Related: Akio Toyoda Tests Hydrogen-Powered GR Yaris at WRC Stage

The conversion from gas to liquid hydrogen was intended to provide the Corolla with a longer cruising range while racing, as well as to make handling and carrying fuel to each race venue easier. Although liquid hydrogen is significantly easier to refuel, it must be stored at a precise temperature of -487 degrees Fahrenheit.

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