Wheels in motion: Pat Symonds, technical director of Renault F1 and FS ambassador, believes that green policies in motorsport, such as the introduction of the Audio R10 TDI biofuel car, are vital [GAVIN IRELAND; AFP/GETTY IMAGES]
From carbon offsetting to alternative fuels, motorsport is working on solutions to make the sport more energy efficient, without sacrificing any of the excitement.

The governing body of Formula One, the FIA, has said that the sport is unsustainable and urgent rule changes are needed. Teams have until October this year to submit their proposals to improve efficiency.

When we’re talking about a sport where data analysis can make or break a race, it pays to look at numbers. The cars run at less than four miles per gallon. They put out over 700 brake horse power (BHP), and generate top speeds of over 200mph. This is a global business which turns over more than $4bn (£2.1bn) a year. Top teams have budgets of over $400m (£210m), and the 10 competing teams, plus all the suppliers and media, each travel a total of 74,000km by air every year.

Onthe face of it, it doesn’t sound fantastic for the environment, although it’s certainly great business for the wealthy individuals and corporations involved. The media have been critical of the apparently wasteful nature of the sport – a recent instance being the “fuel-burning” phase during qualifying where the team were encouraged to tour around using up fuel in order to get credits. Qualifying rules have now been changed to stop this. Pat Symonds, technical director of Renault F1, was instrumental in this, and believes the sport will do much more to face up to environmental issues. “People don’t have a choice in this.We are compelled to look at green issues. I am sceptical concerning the science behind many of the arguments, but as engineers we understand the challenge and are working on a range of solutions to help make our sport more energy efficient.”

These solutions are not all new, either. It’s not as well publicised that Formula One has been offsetting its CO 2 emissions since 1997 – long before the term “carbon footprint” became everyday language. The FIA has been supporting the Scolel Te project in southern Mexico to offset the impact not only of the Formula One World Championship but also the World Rally Championship. It buys credits in the project’s trust fund, the Fondo BioClimatico, which supports schemes including the planting of new trees. Their contribution far outweighs the amount of carbon produced by not only the race cars but the transportation of all the teams’ personnel around the globe.

Biofuel has also been introduced into the mix. At least 5.75 per cent of the fuel must contain biomatter, meaning cars need to be biofuel compliant. Symonds has strong views on the part thisshould play in the sport. “It’s ethically wrong to be promoting biofuel, unless it’ssecond generation. First generation biofuel is made from food crops and will simply compete for land. Second-generation biofuel is more sustainable as it can be produced from waste products.”

Other forms of motorsport are joining in. Not content with being the first team to compete at Le Mans with a biodiesel-powered car, this year Audi were also the first biofuelled winner. The Audi R10 TDI ran on a fuel blend including second generation biomass-toliquids fuel (BTL) made by Shell from non-food biomass, such as waste wood. It is expected to reduce CO 2 production by as much as 90 per cent compared to normal diesel.

You might be forgiven for thinking that this kind of racing technology is the preserve of manufacturer backed teams with mega budgets. But you’d be wrong. Formula Student is a racing category run by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), with the support of partners including Airbus, Autodesk, Honda Racing F1 Team, IET, Learning Grid, National Instruments, RSComponents, Shell and Toyota. It provides students from universities around the world with a real-life exercise in design and manufacture and the business side of automotive engineering. So what’s being done to encourage student teams to develop energy-efficient race cars? Jon Hilton, managing partnerof Flybrid Systems and chief judge at Formula Student, explains. “We’ve created a technologically neutral competition. By comparison with other motorsports, we allow pretty much anything – if you thought you could power your car efficiently with baked beans, we’d accommodate it. We then use a conversion ratio to calculate the CO 2 produced, and create a level playing field. The development of alternative fuels in an environment such as Formula Student is fast. ”This season has seen a hydrogen-powered car built by Hertfordshire University in Formula Student’s new low-carbon category – running on fuel produced from manure.

Hilton’s business, Flybrid Systems, knows a thing or two about alternative energy for motorsport. It was founded only 18 months ago by Hilton and his partner, Doug Cross, both of whom had previously worked for Renault F1. Hilton brought 17 years’experience in F1 to the table, and a strong understanding of energy-efficient systems. In the 2009 regulations, the FIA made it mandatory for teams to put in place systems that recover energy from braking, often referred to by the acronym KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System). In lay terms, it means the energy created when you brake is stored instead of being lost. This means we will see hybrid cars on the grid next season. Flybrid are talking to a number of F1 teams about their own piece of kit – a high-speed flywheel-based energy storage system.

Technology like this is just as relevant to everyday road transport. This is not lost on Flybrid, who are working with Jaguar, Ford and a number of other partners to develop this technology in order to make it available to the mass market by 2013. “Car makers in motorsport and mainstream manufacturing have seen a bigger emphasis in recent years on environmental concerns than they could ever have imagined,” says Hilton. “It’s down to engineers like us to help develop solutions that work for the teams competing in F1, the customer and for the environment. We are creating a win-win.”

Quite apart from the technology, recent campaigns have helped to make Formula One’s audience –estimated at 160 million worldwide – more aware of the environment. Honda Racing F1 launched their Earth Car in 2007. Doing away with the usual sponsor logos and messages, the bodywork was painted to represent the Earth. This brave move was part of a global campaign by Honda to support projects that have a positive impact on the planet. In 2008, the FIA launched Make Cars Green ( www.makecarsgreen.com), which encourages the wider public to be more aware of the environment.

Many have accused the FIA and F1 teams of hypocrisy, but there is a genuine feeling that the sport is prepared to do whatever it takes to reduce its impact on the world around us – without sacrificing the spectacle and excitement that fans around the world enjoy.

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