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Historically, the focus of Formula 1 (F1) vehicles has been on high performance and speed—no surprise, considering that they are the top class of racing cars worldwide.
However, Formula 1 is planning to launch its next generation of vehicles with not only performance in mind, but also the environment. These eco-friendly racing cars will be powered entirely by sustainable fuel and will boast zero net carbon dioxide emissions.
Formula 1 will be launching these eco-friendly vehicles starting in 2025, and is currently in talks with fuel companies about potentially scaling up production. The auto company hopes to market this sustainable fuel for mainstream use and to one day see it used in the millions of vehicles that continue to run on internal combustion engines.
EVs versus sustainable fuel: what’s the difference for Formula 1?
Car and Driver points out that while electric vehicle (EV) sales are on the rise—and are often heralded as the future of green vehicle tech—EVs still represent a tiny fraction of all new car sales. In fact, over the first six months of 2021, only 310,000 EVs were sold in the U.S., versus over 8 million total car sales.
With this in mind, it seems unlikely that electric motors are going to take over for internal combustion engines. That’s why it’s so significant that Formula 1, the most popular motorsport company internationally, is planning for its next generation of vehicles to run on 100% sustainable fuel.
Sustainable fuel still emits carbon dioxide; however, it emits no net carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is an important distinction: while burning sustainable fuel still releases carbon, this carbon emission is offset by the fuel itself, which is made by recapturing other would-be carbon emissions at their source.
Chief Technical Officer of Formula 1, Pat Symonds, explained the distinction. "We’re not producing any carbon dioxide that is not already in the atmosphere at the moment; we’re taking it out of the atmosphere, we’re using it, and we’re putting it back in the atmosphere."
According to Formula 1, this new fuel could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 65% as compared to emissions from non-sustainable fuels.
How will Formula 1 produce sustainable fuel?
Formula 1’s 100% sustainable fuel will be produced in-laboratory using elements sourced in several different ways. This includes carbon recapture, in which carbon dioxide is captured at the source of its emission and reused for other purposes, rather than emitted into the environment.
Other sources include non-food biomass, such as agricultural waste and algae, and municipal waste, according to Car and Driver. F1 doesn’t intend to sacrifice its cars’ high performance for eco-friendliness, and thus will need to match the energy density of its alternative fuel to that of its current fuel.
Formula 1 hopes to scale up production of this sustainable fuel for mainstream use. The company remains pessimistic about EVs’ growth potential, predicting that by 2030, only 8% of cars on the road will be all-electric. Therefore, Formula 1 believes that the only way toward a greener future is through running sustainable fuels in internal combustion engines.
Formula 1 is already beginning its green transition. In 2022, Formula 1 cars will make the switch from high octane fuel to 87-octane gas, which is 10% ethanol.
Sustainable fuels aren’t the company’s only foray into eco-friendly products. Formula 1 has announced that it aims to reduce the quantity of single-use plastics used during race weekends and replace them with compostable and recyclable materials.
Do automakers have any interest in sustainable fuels?
Other automakers have started expressing interest in sustainable fuel use. Porsche in particular has vocalized its interest in producing and using synthetic fuels.
In March 2021, the vice-president of Porsche, Fritz Enzinger, hinted in an interview with Automotive News Europe that Porsche may join forces with F1 if the company commits to the use of sustainable fuels. If Porsche follows through with this, the two companies could form a very powerful partnership.
Some racing enthusiasts may be skeptical of Formula 1’s move to eco-friendly cars. However, anyone who thinks that environmentalism and car racing can’t mix would be wrong. In fact, the British Grand Prix made headlines this season by hosting the first carbon-neutral broadcast of a car race.
According to Motor Sport Magazine, on-the-ground staff used hybrid vehicles and other zero-emission vehicles, while on-site generators used hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) fuel. Turns out, car racing doesn’t need to exclude environmentalists.