Formula 1 fans who are eco conscious must be delighted to hear this news. Its sustainability strategy plans to have a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030 through wiping out carbon footprint of activity at race tracks, including road and air transport of staff and equipment to the events. It will move to ultra-efficient logistics and travel and 100% renewably powered offices, facilities and factories and balance the ones that they can’t cut.
To begin with, F1 is going to use petrol with biofuel content at least 10% in 2021. Also, it plans to make all events more sustainable by not using single-use plastics and ensuring all waste is reused, recycled or composted in 2025.
Since 2014, cars with high-tech turbo hybrid power-units have become the most efficient car engines in the world in terms of the percentage of fuel energy that is converted into power, a measurement known as thermal efficiency. F1 engines have a thermal efficiency rating of 50%, whereas a road-car petrol engine is generally in the region of 30%.
These cars are still going to be used in races until the end of 2025, and during that time, the group is going to look for methods and ways to be more efficient and sustainable in 2026 and the following years.
The sport’s owners added that they hoped to work with the automotive industry to apply the lessons of F1’s engines to create “the world’s first net-zero carbon hybrid internal combustion engine”. Meanwhile, road car manufacturers have been focusing on the development of synthetic fuels, which use carbon captured from the air, farm waste or biomass.
This sustainability plan was initiated after F1’s 12 months of intense work with motorsport’s governing body the FIA, sustainability experts, F1 teams, promoters and partners. The execution of this plan will need a lot of people, maybe around 1,000 people to design, develop, build and race the cars that take part in more than 20 grands prix a year. Fortunately, everyone is on board with the project and some have already started working towards this goal.
For example, Mercedes said that they’ve been powering their two F1 factories in the UK entirely by renewable energy since early October and that they are on target to have net-zero carbon emissions by the end of next year through a combination of reducing CO2 emissions and offsetting.
F1’s chairman and chief executive Chase Carey said, “Over its 70-year history, F1 has pioneered numerous technologies and innovations that have positively contributed to society and helped to combat carbon emissions. From ground-breaking aerodynamics to improved brake designs, the progress led by F1 teams has benefited hundreds of millions of cars on the road today,”
“We believe F1 can continue to be a leader for the auto industry and work with the energy and automotive sector to deliver the world’s first net-zero carbon hybrid internal combustion engine that hugely reduces carbon emissions around the world.”
So how will F1 exactly instigate the plan?
First of all, it plans to offset emissions through replanting trees as well as using its engineering prowess in the sport to develop new technologies that can capture carbon from the atmosphere. Considering that this can be done as immediately as possible, it’s a good start.
Other than that, F1 is going to utilize biofuels heavily as a part of its sustainability strategy. Chief Technical Officer Pat Symonds said that biofuels “is a word that gets bandied about quite a lot, so we prefer to use the phrase ‘advanced sustainable fuels’
He explained that there are three generations of biofuels. According to Symonds, the first generation were made from food stocks, which are crops specifically grown for fuel. But since that wasn’t sustainable, came the second generation which uses food waste, biomass, or household waste.
The third generation of biofuels, sometimes called e-fuels or synthetic fuel. Simply put, these fuels are the more advanced one. Symonds said, “They’re often called drop-in fuels because you can effectively just put them into any engine, without modification, whereas engines that run on extreme ethanol mixes, such as used in Brazil [for road cars], require alteration.”
“Formula 1 didn’t invent the hybrid, but Formula 1 showed what a hybrid could be and it moved people’s perceptions of what a hybrid is capable of and I think we can do the same with new fuel technology and hopefully demonstrate that another viable alternative energy source is possible,” said Symonds.
So far, F1 is still meeting with stakeholders, and it’s on the way to making a road map to produce a fully sustainable fuel past the new era of F1 in 2021. Symonds added, “The path to that is not completely clear at the moment, but in partnership with the FIA and with the help of the engine manufacturers and the fuel companies, we are looking at the way forward,”
“I think it’s important to say that I don’t think it will be easy, but anything of value requires ingenuity, commitment and the will to make a change. And if we can do it, I think there’s another great contribution story from motorsport to the world at large.”
What about electric race cars?
Some of you might say that electric cars are the future, and F1 should use this type of engine as well. You’re not entirely wrong. Vehicles are certainly going to that direction, which is electric powertrains.
However, Symonds argued that more than 90% of the world’s vehicles are still powered by internal combustion engines (ICEs) – and that’s where carbon emissions could be reduced in the short term.
Although Elon Musk is aiming to mass produce electric trucks, it’s not easy to power larger vehicles such as trucks and aircraft with electric powertrains. That’s why it’s still worth focusing on the ICE and its fuels.
“However, what we cannot do is carry on digging those out of the ground. We’re going to have to somehow synthesise them and that’s what we want Formula 1 to explore and hopefully to lead,” said Symonds.
According to Formula 1, as these advanced sustainable fuels will be synthesised, they will also be cleaner, doing away with elements of fossil fuels such as sulphur. This could lead to a performance gain, because right now the amount of fuel used by teams is limited.
“When the next engine does come along, we have a chance to develop a real game changer, where you’re tailoring the fuel and the engine together and that really does lead to some much more interesting possibilities,”
“What we can do is we can show the world that there are alternatives to electric power and there are alternatives to storing electricity in heavy and, I have to say, somewhat dirty batteries,” Symonds concluded.