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Mazda: Environment

Mazda has taken the wraps off a hydrogen-powered RX-8 prototype at the Tokyo Motor Show, which is currently undergoing testing. The RX-8's rotary engine can run on hydrogen with very little modification, as its separate injection, compression, ignition and exhaust areas mean that there is no pre-ignition of the gas on the intake cycle, a common problem when developing hydrogen-powered versions of conventional (Otto cycle, or reciprocating) engines. An electronically-controlled hydrogen injector system draws air from the side port, and then directly injects the gas into the intake chambers in each of the twin rotor housings.

Mazda says that since few modifications are needed, the rotary engine design is easy and cheap to convert for hydrogen fuelling. Its prototype has a dual-fuel system, enabling it still to run on petrol if no hydrogen is available - a necessary measure until a full infrastructure for hydrogen refueling is established. The company "is still several years off producing a hydrogen car for customer use", but it is clearly an ongoing project; in the meantime, Mazda is working on idle cut-off systems, regenerative braking and other methods of improving fuel efficiency. Further enhancements to the rotary principle can be seen in a hybrid Wankel engine also on display, with an additional electric motor as well as an electrically-assisted turbocharger.

In a speech at the Tokyo show, Mazda president and CEO Hisakazu Imaki also outlined the firm's plans to launch a number of new products in the next two years, to achieve greater success in the North American market, to develop a strong strategy for the Chinese market and to continue to aggressively cut costs. He introduced the Washu, Kusabi and Ibuki concept cars - the latter a precursor to the next-generation MX-5 - but the Hydrogen RE (Rotary Engine) is arguably the most far-reaching of the company's concepts on show. "We believe that Hydrogen RE is a critical next step as we move towards cost-effective, multi-purpose and socially acceptable alternative fuel vehicles", said Imaki. "Further, as the unique nature of the rotary engine makes it ideal for hydrogen combustion, we feel that Mazda has an advantage in developing this technology."


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