Hope for the Future with F1’s New Fuel

By: Christen Maccone

Formula 1 is the most prestigious motor racing competition and most popular annual sporting series. In more recent years, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and Formula 1 have been moving towards more sustainable practices. For example, earlier in 2021, Formula 1 introduced new policies banning single-use plastic bottles for staff while at races and switching paddock passes to be made from recycled plastic.[1]

In November of 2019, Formula 1 released a net-zero carbon footprint plan to be achieved by 2030.[2] This goal includes both on-track and off-track operations. Now, nearly two years after the initial announcement of their net-zero plan, Formula 1 has announced that come 2025, engines will run on 100% sustainable fuel.[3] Using the new fuel will not require any modification to the current internal combustion engines, calling it “drop-in fuel.”

While Formula 1 engines are already set to run on a fuel mixture of 90% fossil fuel and 10% renewable ethanol come 2022. The fuel to be used in 2025 will use either carbon capture or biomass from municipal waste, algae, or agricultural waste.[4] Sustainable fuels will release carbon dioxide when burned; however, there is no net carbon dioxide because the engines will use CO2 already present in the atmosphere.

Though this is surely a step in the right direction, actual on-track activity contributes only 0.7% of the sport’s emissions.[5] Despite the minimal direct impacts these efforts will have on Formula 1’s carbon footprint compared to other operational improvements that could be made, the potential impact that this drop-in fuel has on the global market could make up for that. The technological and engineering advancements teams have made on the track have historically made an impact on the road as well. For example, Mercedes S-Class vehicles use hybrid technology derived from the team’s Formula 1 car.[6] Producing a drop-in fuel would not only lower emissions directly from Formula 1, but based upon the past, it is foreseeable that this technology would then spread to the global market, allowing for a much more significant impact on carbon emissions.

While President Biden’s August executive order calling for half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 to be electric and dedicating billions of dollars to boost electric vehicles gives hope, there is still room for improvement when it comes to fuel consumption for the non-electric vehicles that will still be on the road.[7] In fact, estimates show that a mere 8% of the cars on the road in 2030 will be fully electric, so it is incredibly important that something is done about gasoline-powered vehicles.[8] Furthermore, if Formula 1 technology once again makes its way off the race track and onto roads everywhere, this drop-in fuel could significantly impact global emissions.

Image from: Formula1

[1] F1 to eliminate single-use plastic bottles for staff in 2021, Formula 1 (Mar. 9, 2021), https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.f1-to-eliminate-single-use-plastic-bottles-for-staff-in-2021.4yr3FBK7AIvs7j2HgY8mvm.html.

[2] Formula 1 announces plan to be Net Zero Carbon by 2030, Formula 1 (Mar. 9, 2021), https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.formula-1-announces-plan-to-be-net-zero-carbon-by-2030.5IaX2AZHyy7jqxl6wra6CZ.html.

[3] How Formula 1 is striving to create a 100% sustainable fuel, Formula 1 (Oct. 5, 2021), https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.watch-how-formula-1-is-striving-to-create-a-100-sustainable-fuel.1ENHVTjKDbXNOIidEJ8okc.html.

[4] Greg Stuart, Pat Symonds on how Formula 1 are creating the next generation of 100% sustainable fuels, Formula 1 (Oct. 5, 2021), https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.pat-symonds-on-how-formula-1-are-creating-the-next-generation-of-100.6XCGNQ3ExMhbhYy338Qgi2.html.

[5] Laurence Edmondson, The environment will pose F1’s biggest challenge in the 2020s, ESPN (Dec. 30, 2019), https://www.espn.com/f1/story/_/id/28395224/the-environment-pose-f1-biggest-challenge-2020s.

[6] Samarth Kanal, How F1 technology has supercharged the world, Formula 1 (Nov. 7, 2019) ,https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.how-f1-technology-has-supercharged-the-world.6Gtk3hBxGyUGbNH0q8vDQK.html.

[7] David Shepardson & Jeff Mason, Biden seeks to make half of new U.S. auto fleet electric by 2030, Reuters (Aug. 5, 2021), https://www.reuters.com/business/autos-transportation/biden-set-target-50-evs-by-2030-industry-backs-goal-2021-08-05/.

[8] Caleb Miller, Formula 1 Is Creating a 100% Sustainable Fuel to Keep Internal Combustion Alive, Car & Driver (Oct. 5, 2021), https://www.caranddriver.com/news/a37872650/formula-1-auto-racing-sustainable-fuel/.

2 comments

  1. This is a great article, Christen! I have never read about the impact of motor racing competitions on the environment, so I found this really interesting. You make a great point that the spread of drop-in fuel to the global market can have a more significant impact on carbon emissions, and I hope to see its usage become more widespread!

  2. Intriguing article! I appreciate how Formula 1 seems to be making sustainable choices in all aspects, from banning single-use plastic to shifting to sustainable fuel. I never considered how practices from motor racing competitions could seep out into the larger global market. It will be exciting to see how the motor vehicle industry evolves in the upcoming years.

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