Japanese auto giant Toyota Motor Corp. plans to enter an in-development car using liquid hydrogen into 2023 endurance race events as part of efforts to make vehicles powered by the environmentally friendly fuel commercially viable.

While many major automakers are focusing on electric vehicles to achieve carbon neutral targets, Toyota has also invested in developing a range of technologies, including hydrogen-powered automobiles, which produce almost no carbon dioxide when operating.

A hydrogen-powered racing car developed by Toyota Motor Corp. runs in its first 24-hour endurance race event at Fuji International Speedway in Oyama, Shizuoka Prefecture, on May 23, 2021. (Kyodo)

For carmakers, the pressure is on to provide sustainable replacements for gasoline-powered vehicles, which the Japanese government aims to eliminate from new car sales by 2035 as part of its push for a carbon neutral society by 2050.

By subjecting the liquid hydrogen car to endurance races, Toyota intends to improve the nascent technology's functionality and address some of its challenges, including how to keep hydrogen liquid at minus 253 C.

Using hydrogen in liquid form instead of its gaseous state would double a car's mileage and allow for smaller hydrogen fueling stations. Liquid hydrogen engines must burn the element as gas after converting it from a liquid.

In September 2022, the company set up a team of about 30 specialists to work toward developing a commercially viable vehicle powered by a hydrogen engine. Among the issues it is tasked with addressing is ensuring the vehicle can operate at below-freezing temperatures.

"We've made a small move from testing the technology toward a product that can be mass-produced," said Koji Sato, Toyota's chief branding officer.

Toyota is not limiting its development efforts solely to onboard liquid hydrogen fuel and is opting instead to search for a number of different uses, including potentially using large tanks for gaseous hydrogen in commercial vehicles and liquid hydrogen for passenger cars.

This is partly because liquid fuel would enable vehicles' tanks to be more flexible in shape and lighter than those for gaseous hydrogen, which are filled under high pressure in cylindrical tanks.

The racing car developed by Toyota Motor Corp. and set to compete in an endurance race is fueled with gaseous hydrogen during an event at Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, on Nov. 26, 2022. (Kyodo)

Toyota has already been using endurance races to accelerate hydrogen's viability by fielding a car equipped with a hydrogen-powered combustion engine into competitions, with its debut coming at the 24-hour race at Fuji International Speedway in Shizuoka Prefecture in May 2021.

At its maiden appearance, the specially adapted Toyota Corolla fueled by gaseous hydrogen was piloted by a number of drivers, including Toyota President Akio Toyoda, and ran for about 11 hours and 54 minutes. For the roughly 12 remaining hours, the vehicle spent about eight hours in repairs and four hours refueling.

In an endurance race last November, Toyota said it had improved the engine's output by 24 percent and its driving range by around 30 percent. It also managed to reduce cases of fire-causing abnormal combustion in the engine, with instances down more than half compared with last March.

The carmaker's liquid hydrogen car began test runs at the end of October.

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