The technology adds as much as 30 percent to the cost of existing engines. But because it builds on proven technology, hydrogen combustion is still cheaper than battery electrics and fuel cells.
And because the supply chain already exists, hydrogen combustion can be brought to market more quickly than next-generation batteries and fuel cell stacks. Compared with fuel cells, hydrogen combustion is less costly, more reliable and more durable, proponents say. But it also lags fuel cell technology a little in efficiency. And compared with pure battery electric systems, hydrogen combustion performs better in cold and hot environments and under heavy loads.
Because hydrogen combustion is such a nascent and niche technology, there is little in the way of a forecast of its long-term market penetration. But BorgWarner predicts hydrogen combustion could eventually comprise 20 percent to 30 percent of the heavy-duty vehicle and equipment sector.
"There are still a lot of unknowns," Hardam said. "But there is high potential in this market."
Leveraging existing combustion technologies is key for old-school suppliers such as BorgWarner. But even as it seeks to modernize its portfolio, it isn't ignoring the migration to EVs. The company got just under 3 percent of its global revenue from EV-related products last year. It wants that to increase to 25 percent or more in 2025, and then to 45 percent in 2030. It has a long checklist of new products to target, including electric drive motors, inverters, on-board chargers, DC-DC converters and battery pack controllers.
"You will see much 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 big presence in Japan, with two factories and a network of technical centers and engineering offices that serve almost all of Japan's big automakers. It also has a joint venture with Japanese steering and ball-and-bearing maker NSK Corp.
In Japan, it started making engine and transmission chains and now makes all-manner of engine-related components, including timing chains, sprockets and variable cam timing systems.
But BorgWarner isn't delving into hydrogen combustion simply as a play for business with Toyota. It seeks merits in the technology in its own right. Its main research centers are in Europe, and it is casting for customers not only in Japan but in South Korea, Europe, China and the U.S.
Explains Hardam: "It's not just a Japanese or a Toyota-only activity."