Toyota’s New Engine Grabs Carbon from the Air

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Toyota’s New Engine Grabs Carbon from the Air

The phrase “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” is often used by car manufacturers to emphasize the link between their racing achievements and their commercial car sales. This connection suggests that technologies developed for motorsports often find their way into everyday vehicles. However, the future impact of Toyota’s latest carbon capture technology on consumer cars remains to be seen.

During a race in the Super Taikyu Series at Fuji Speedway in Japan, Toyota showcased a carbon capture system in a GR Corolla concept car powered by hydrogen. This innovative vehicle featured two unique components under its hood: a pair of special filters and a recovery fluid, as reported by Toyota Times in 2023 and later picked up by Automotive News.

The system utilizes a ceramic catalyst similar to those found in standard exhaust systems, designed to filter out harmful pollutants. However, these filters are coated with a CO2-absorbing material developed by Kawasaki, capturing carbon dioxide from the air drawn into the engine. One filter is strategically placed at the engine’s front, where it can utilize the heat from engine oil for lubrication. This heat triggers the Kawasaki material to release captured CO2 into a recovery fluid. As the CO2 dissolves into this fluid, it allows the system to continuously absorb more carbon from the air, facilitated by the heat transfer process.

The saying “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” underscores the strong link between motorsport achievements and consumer car sales, suggesting that success in racing boosts the market appeal of a manufacturer’s vehicles. However, the practical application of Toyota’s innovative carbon capture technology in commercial cars is still under review.

During a race in the Super Taikyu Series at Japan’s Fuji Speedway, Toyota unveiled a GR Corolla concept car equipped with a groundbreaking carbon capture system. This system, detailed by Toyota Times and later covered by Automotive News, featured two unique filters and a recovery fluid under the bonnet. These filters, coated with a CO2-absorbing material developed by Kawasaki and integrated into a ceramic catalyst similar to those in standard exhaust systems, effectively capture CO2 from the air. Utilizing the heat from engine oil, the system releases the captured CO2 into a recovery fluid, enabling continuous air purification.

Naoaki Ito, a project general manager at Toyota, explained that unlike traditional CO2 capture facilities, which rely on fans and heat, the Corolla’s system leverages the car’s existing air intake and engine heat, making it energy-efficient. Although the system’s compatibility with electric vehicles is yet to be determined, its ability to function without additional power, using only engine waste heat, presents a possibility for broader application.

Despite its innovative approach, the system faces limitations, such as its capacity to capture only 20 grams of CO2 over 20 laps at Fuji Speedway, a fraction of the emissions produced by burning a gallon of gasoline. The filters, requiring replacement after each race, add to the challenges. Toyota’s ongoing efforts aim to enhance the system’s carbon capturing capacity and automate the filter replacement process, suggesting potential for improvement in this pioneering technology.

Toyota is steadfast in its journey towards electric vehicles but continues to explore a broad spectrum of electrification options, including hybrids, battery electric vehicles (BEVs), plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). Their carbon capture innovation, which operates with an internal combustion engine—even one that combusts hydrogen—may appear contradictory in the context of a shift towards full electrification.

However, dismissing this technology outright would overlook Toyota’s deep-rooted history of innovation and leadership in patenting groundbreaking technologies. The company’s pioneering work in hybrid and hydrogen technologies has been so influential that it once offered thousands of its patents for others in the industry to use without paying royalties, aiming to accelerate the adoption of greener technology.

While Toyota’s GR division explores inventive methods to lower emissions, the broader automotive landscape demands more immediate action. Currently, Toyota’s sole fully electric offering in the U.S. market, the bZ4x, falls short in terms of range and fast-charging capabilities, with a maximum range of 252 miles. What’s needed is a version of the bZ4x—or its equivalents from Lexus and Subaru—that can deliver at least 300 miles per charge and features improved fast-charging. Additionally, Toyota’s push into the future of transportation would benefit from hastening the development of long-range, cost-effective electric vehicles. Ultimately, the most effective strategy for carbon reduction is to prevent its emission, aligning with the urgent need for advanced electric vehicle solutions.

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