Suppliers join Toyota’s hydrogen combustion crusade

The technology adds as much as 30 percent to the cost of existing engines. However, because it is based on proven technology, hydrogen combustion is still cheaper than battery electricity and fuel cells.

And because the supply chain already exists, hydrogen combustion can be brought to market faster than next-generation batteries and fuel cell stacks. Compared to fuel cells, hydrogen combustion is cheaper, more reliable and more durable, proponents say. But it also lags fuel cell technology a bit in terms of efficiency. And compared to pure battery electric systems, hydrogen combustion performs better in cold and hot environments and under heavy loads.

Because hydrogen combustion is such a new and niche technology, there is little in the way of a forecast for its long-term market penetration. But BorgWarner predicts that hydrogen combustion could eventually comprise 20 percent to 30 percent of the heavy vehicle and equipment sector.

“There are still a lot of unknowns,” Hardam said. “But there is great potential in this market.”

Leveraging existing combustion technologies is key for old-school suppliers like BorgWarner. But even as it seeks to modernize its portfolio, it is not ignoring the migration to electric cars. The company got just under 3 percent of its global revenue from EV-related products last year. It wants that to rise to 25 percent or more by 2025 and then to 45 percent by 2030. It has a long checklist of new products to target, including electric drive motors, inverters, on-board chargers, DC-DC converters and battery package controllers.

“You’re going to see a lot more diversity in powertrains,” Hardam said. “It will be a cocktail mix of solutions depending on the market, the region, company policies and government policies.”

BorgWarner has a large presence in Japan with two factories and a network of technical centers and engineering offices serving nearly all of Japan’s major automakers. It also has a joint venture with Japanese steering and ball bearing manufacturer NSK Corp.

In Japan, it began manufacturing engine and transmission chains and now manufactures all kinds of engine-related components, including timing chains, gears and variable cam control systems.

But BorgWarner is not diving into hydrogen combustion simply as a game for business with Toyota. It seeks advantages in the technology itself. Its main research centers are in Europe, and it casts for clients not only in Japan, but in South Korea, Europe, China and the United States

Explains Hardam: “It’s not just a Japanese or a Toyota-only activity.”

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