Mazda announces hydrogen-powered RX8 prototype

Mazda announced on Monday that it has created its first functional hydrogen-gas dual fuel vehicle. Even though they are not the first company to create such a vehicle, this is still big news.

BMW has already shipped its dual-fuel (hydrogen and gas) vehicles to customers, but Mazda gets credit for being the first to apply the dual-fuel thing to a Wankel (aka rotary) engine. Yes indeed, Mazda has chosen to make the rotary engine, known since the 1960s as “the engine of the future”, it’s engine of the green future.

Use of the RX8 as a platform is great news. For far too long, auto manufacturers applied its alternative fuel technologies to ugly little compacts. With BMW and Mazda using luxury and sports cars, respectively, the market for green technology has more potential to reach beyond those die-hard Honda Insight and first-gen Toyota Prius folks (the ones who saw “An Inconvenient Truth” four times in the theater just for kicks.)

The rotary powerplant is a double-edged sword, though. It is lightweight and can deliver big horsepower numbers from a tiny displacement. But as thousands of former NSU and Mazda customers will tell you, the engines have a habit of needing rebuilds well before conventional rivals. Although the current version found in the RX8 re-engineered the weak apex seal points, the jury is still out on if these new engines are capable of hitting 300,000-plus miles like standard inline and vee counterparts.

Rotary engines have also been knocked for poor fuel economy and horrible emissions control. Hydrogen makes emissions a non-issue (because the tailpipe emits water vapor only.) We’ll have to see how the RX8 compares with the Bimmer in terms of range on hydrogen.

Most importantly, Mazda’s move means other automakers will have to follow suit or risk missing the boat like they did with gas-electric hybrids. The more companies that commit to the technology, the more likelihood that hydrogen power becomes a real affordable alternative to gas, diesel and gas-electrics. And this time around, consumers will hopefully be able to be luxurious or sporty while also being green!

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