Biodegradable car could 'clean up' Formula One

Jeremy Clarkson is unlikely to approve, but engineers are about to start building the first biodegradable Formula One car, as part of an international effort to clean up the world's most polluting sport.

Its inventors, at Warwick University, will start work on it in the New Year, probably using coconuts, and plan soon to be racing it competitively. They have already successfully constructed a sports car using materials such as hemp, potatoes and rapeseed, which achieves 150mph.

The car is one of a series of moves to "green" the sport, long seen as the epitome of gas-guzzling waste. Formula One is to introduce new energy-saving rules within two years.

Dr Kerry Kirwan, an assistant professor at the university, says he started building biodegradable racing cars because people thought environmentally friendly products were boring.

The body of his sports car, "Eco One" – which goes from 0 to 62mph in just four seconds – is moulded from hemp matting impregnated with a resin made from rapeseed oil. Its tyres use natural rubber and starch from potatoes, and its brakes are manufactured with hemp fibre and a liquid wrung from cashew nut shells.

It can run on bioethanol made from wheat and sugar beet. Its engine and chassis are steel, which can be easily recycled – making the car about 95 per cent biodegradable or recyclable.

Dr Kirwan and his team have not yet decided exactly what materials to use for the Formula One car, but are planning to include "tropical fibres", including from coconuts. They hope that their research will set an example for the motor industry. "If we can build a high-performance car that can virtually be grown from seed," says the project manager Ben Wood, "just imagine what's possible for the average family car."

Nick Fry, team principal of Honda Racing, says: "Unless Formula One can become a contributor to the technology that might help the environment, it's likely that it will become a dinosaur... We're trying to say that you can be a fan of fast cars and do good things for the environment."

Over to you, Mr Clarkson.

Further reading: 'Motorsport 100', October 2007 report, Motorsport Development UK