Automakers and energy giants are rethinking the environmental impact of motorsports, so much so that next year’s edition of the world’s oldest endurance race will be won in a car powered by wine scum.
Oil company TotalEnergies SE said on August 20 that it is developing its own 100% renewable fuel for motorsports that will be presented starting next year, including at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France, where the car covering the greater distance in a full day wins.
The so-called advanced ethanol fuel is made in part from residues from the French wine industry, such as wine lees and grape pomace. Pierre Fillon, president of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, which organizes the race, said the event is well suited for testing biofuel.
The fuel should allow an immediate reduction of at least 65% of the carbon emissions of racing cars. It works by mixing wine residue with an ethanol by-product, helping the engine burn fuel more efficiently and reducing air pollution. For TotalEnergies, it is an opportunity to test fuels that will help with a broader push to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“The race track is more than ever an outdoor laboratory for TotalEnergies,” said CEO Patrick Pouyanne.
Other high-profile race organizers will take note, aware of the pressures the industry in general faces to decarbonize. Electric is also in the conversation. Porsche AG plans to invest more than $ 7 billion in electric mobility by 2022, and half of its new vehicles could have an electric powertrain by 2025.
Formula One, the highest class in international motorsports, uses a fuel equivalent to ordinary gasoline available to the public. It requires engines to use fuel with a sustainable content of 10%, and the sport’s governing body, the FIA, has committed to net zero carbon by 2030.
IndyCar, the premier level of open-wheel racing in the US, sees drivers race through the countryside on a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% high-octane racing fuel.
But racing fans have doubts. Josh Jeremiah, an avid motorsports enthusiast, has been uncomfortable because his environmental concerns collide with his love of the sport. While reducing emissions throughout the F1 season is essential, he said the industry must balance that with reducing the quality of auto racing.
“I am concerned if the cars will perform that well unless the technology is there to make renewables powerful enough,” he said. “And it does not eliminate the problem of how bad it is to travel to the roads for the environment.”
In 2018, F1 calculated its total carbon emissions at more than 250,000 tonnes, 45% of which came from the transport of goods around the world by road, air and sea. Only 0.7% came from emissions from the racing cars themselves.
Porsche pushes the pedal
On July 31, Dutch racing star Larry ten Voorde sped to victory in the fourth round of the 2021 Porsche Supercup. He crossed the finish line in Budapest in a car powered by a mixture of liquid biofuels.
The German car giant has partnered with Exxon Mobil Corp to create lower carbon fuels for future consumer use. Exxon analysis shows that there is enormous potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with fuels, which will power Porsche vehicles during the eight Super Cup qualifiers.
The competition’s project manager, Oliver Schwab, was a former director of Porsche China and had been at the forefront of previous tournaments organized by the automaker. The test went smoothly, garnering positive feedback from the teams, he said.
Porsche and Exxon aim to produce synthetic fuels from captured hydrogen and carbon dioxide by next year, which is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 85% compared to current market standards. The eFuel will be obtained from the Haru Oni plant in Chile, where hydrogen is generated in the strong winds of the southernmost region of the country.
The companies will produce around 35,000 gallons of eFuels during the pilot phase in 2022, including next year’s Super Cup. The efforts will support Porsche’s ambitions to reach carbon neutrality by 2030 and invest around $ 1.2 billion in sustainable mobility, but the company does not see its push for eFuel as a possible replacement for electric cars, according to Holger Eckhardt, its motorsports spokesman.
However, with the engines running reliably in the Super Cup and the enthusiasm of competitors to pioneer renewable energy, Holger expects more and more racing competitions to use it in the years to come.
“The FIA World Endurance Championship and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest will be next,” said Eckhardt, referring to endurance racing as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. “They will follow the World Rally Championship and Formula One.”
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