Mazda has been working with Wankel rotary engines since the 1960s and is the only automaker to continue developing the design to this day, more than 30 years after Daimler-Benz, NSU and General Motors all abandoned the idea. Anyone who's ever driven a rotary knows it's a fantastic engine for sports cars thanks to it powerful, high-revving yet tiny package. In the last 20 years Mazda has won a lot of races with rotary engines including the 1991 24 hours of LeMans. When I was in college at what was then known as GMI Engineering and Management institute, we found one of the old prototype GM rotaries sitting on a shelf in the back of the engine dyno lab. A couple of classmates and I toyed with trying to get it up and running for an independent study project but never found the time to get around to it.
Today Mazda is alone developing the rotary engine that still powers the RX-8. They have been working on hydrogen powered rotaries since at least the mid 1990s. The feeling is that the Wankel is ideally suited to use with hydrogen because hydrogen has a low ignition temperature so the standard four stroke engine is prone to pre-detonation and backfiring through the intake ports. The rotary engine separates the intake ports from the combustion area so there are no hot spots in the intake phase. Over the years Mazda has built a number of hydrogen fueled rotary powered cars and showed a hydrogen RX-8 at the 1994 Detroit Auto Show. Earlier this year they began to deliver some of these cars that are actually dual fuel capable (switching from hydrogen to gasoline at the flip of a switch on the dash) to some Japanese customers for field testing. Yesterday Mazda delivered one of the hydrogen rotary cars to the Yamaguchi Prefecture government added to the two previously delivered to the Hiroshima city government. Mazda is based in Yamaguchi and Hiroshima. The cars will be used as general transportation by the local governments. The Mazda press release is after the jump.
Mazda Delivers RX-8 Hydrogen RE to Yamaguchi Government
HIROSHIMA, Japan-Mazda Motor Corporation today announced that it has delivered one dual-fueled RX-8 Hydrogen RE vehicle, which runs either on gasoline or hydrogen, to the Yamaguchi Prefecture government through a commercial lease contract. The Mazda RX-8 Hydrogen RE model's duel-fuel system allows a driver to select either gasoline or hydrogen fuel with the flick of a switch.
To date, Mazda has supplied one RX-8 Hydrogen RE each to two private companies as well as the Hiroshima Prefecture and Hiroshima City government authorities in Japan. The four cars leased so far have been used in both special events and for daily operations. The RX-8 Hydrogen RE that was handed over to Yamaguchi Prefecture today is the fifth vehicle to be delivered in line with Mazda's plan to lease around ten vehicles to local governments or energy-related industries by the end of 2006.
Mazda developed this unique hybrid rotary engine technology as part of its effort to promote an environmentally friendly society. It attained approval to test the vehicle on public roads in Japan from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in October 2004, and began leasing in February 2006.
"Some of Mazda's major facilities, like the Hofu plant and Mine Proving Ground, are located in Yamaguchi prefecture. Accordingly, we are very pleased to be working together with the Yamaguchi prefecture government authorities to further the promise of the Mazda RX-8 Hydrogen RE and that they have introduced this vehicle into service," said Mazda's Executive Vice President in charge of corporate liaison and purchasing, Mutsumi Fujiwara. "In the years ahead, we will further our efforts in environmental technologies as it is a responsibility of automakers like Mazda."