Formula One: The Forefront of Sustainability

by Faye Murphy

Formula One is one of the most resource-intensive sports, but only 1% of its emissions come from racing, with 72% of its emissions involved in shipping the cars, tyres, personnel and motorhomes over five continents to 22 races a year. And it’s not slowing down – F1 has been consistently expanding its calendar in recent years. To combat this, on November 12th, Formula One announced its plan to become carbon neutral by 2030. Recently, on June 27th, they published an update on this plan. In a sport where cash is king, they have the resources and finances to produce worldwide change.

In 2014, the sport switched to hybrid V6 turbo engines, the change did not only reduce each car’s emissions but directly impacted road-car engines. This impact is proven through Mercedes optimising the efficiency of their S-class road car’s V6 turbo engine and EQ power from F1 development. As a result, the industry relevancy of the sport is and will continue to be essential in the development of sustainable transport.

In 2007 F1 first tested their “energy recovery system”, which was first fully implemented in the 2014 season, the same year the V6 engine was introduced. The energy recovery system has become automated in current F1 cars and allows for the management of batteries and energy to ensure maximum power through a race. This technology is now used by many manufacturers, such as Renault, to ensure efficient energy usage in their hybrid/electric vehicles.

Many other technologies first introduced in Formula One have now been used in the average road car. These include; lightweight materials such as carbon fibre, used to reduce the weight of the chassis to reduce fuel usage, and flywheel energy storage systems, which use rotors to store energy as rotational energy. The “flybrid” technology has been used on construction sites to power cranes, reducing fuel consumption by 40% and eliminating the emissions of 17 cars from each crane.

“sustainably-fueled hybrid vehicles can reduce greenhouse gas emissions more significantly than electric vehicles”

In the June 27th update, Formula One gave further information on their plans for the new 2026 regulations. The new regulations will focus on “low-carbon fuels, electric batteries & autonomous vehicle technology”. The regulations will “restrict the use of unsustainable materials in battery production” and use “100% sustainable drop-in fuels”. In addition, the 2026 regulations state that hybrid engines must receive “more power from electrical means”, which will directly affect the automotive industry, as seen from previous technologies. These developments in the automotive sector can create a cycle and reduce the sport’s emissions from travel and shipping.

With the transport industry producing 14% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, the low-carbon fuels being developed by F1 has the potential to reduce CO2 levels by “85– 96% (Wheel-To-Tank) or 70% (life-cycle analysis)”, according to Concawe’s research. Research also indicates that sustainably-fueled hybrid vehicles can reduce greenhouse gas emissions more significantly than electric vehicles. This is due to these fuels having more potential compatibility with the entire transport industry, including aviation, marine, infrastructure and automotive, whereas electric vehicles are limited to the automotive industry. In addition, sustainable fuel can use the current infrastructure of petroleum products, which will prevent the need for large engine modifications to suit the fuel.

There are many issues with current biofuels, but the “advanced sustainable fuel” currently in development within Formula One aims to overwrite these. Problems with current sustainable fuels include the fact the material is being directly displaced from the agricultural industry to produce the raw materials used to create biofuels, which could slowly be causing food shortages and inflation. To combat this issue, the F1 fuel will “only permit 2nd generation bio-content or fuel sourced from waste or e-fuel sourced from Direct Air Capture/flue CO2”. The drop-in nature of the fuel in development will also have higher acceleration uptake speeds, which will be “commercially attractive” for fuel producers, especially in the current global fossil fuel inflation rates. Formula One is in the optimal position for this development as the intense competition within the sport directly impacts the efficiency and quality of development. The sport’s regulations also allow for a plethora of sustainable options to be examined while acting as a stepping stone between lab and industry.

“[F1] believes in leaving positive change in each place they visit and increasing diversity within the sport”

Currently, in the 2022 season of Formula One, cars are only using 10% sustainable fuel, which must be increased to 100% by 2026. In order to achieve this in a safe manner, the 2022 season will be focused on research, while 2023 and 2024 will see fully sustainable fuels introduced in F1’s sister championships, Formula Two and Formula Three. The next step will be ensuring the F1 engine suits the new sustainable fuel before being implemented in 2026. In addition to the 10% sustainable fuel usage, current F1 cars receive between 17-21% of their power from electricity, while the new regulations will increase this to 45%. To achieve this, F1 is focusing on limiting unsustainable and high-risk materials such as cobalt while increasing lighter yet higher power density and battery management. Similarly to sustainable fuels, hybrid engines and the energy recovery system, this development will have the potential to influence the transport industry. The sport has also stated its aim to “offset unavoidable emissions through a mix of biological and technological sequestration”, although the exact method of this sequestration has yet to be confirmed.

The Formula One ethos not only includes the decarbonisation of the sport but also believes in leaving positive change in each place they visit and increasing diversity within the sport. They aim to achieve these by ensuring all waste from each Grand Prix is reused, recycled or composted while creating initiatives for more young people to follow a career in STEM regardless of their background. According to their latest update, the sport is also working to form a “culture of inclusion and creating a diverse talent pool within F1”. They have begun progress on this action by officially partnering with the W-series, an all-female racing competition, and introducing fully funded scholarships.

From all these developments, it is clear to see that Formula One is in a unique position to trial new sustainable options before they enter the industry, giving information on their progress and possible changes before they enter the worldwide market. Due to the popularity and huge capital within the sport, they have the opportunity to reduce the transport industry’s impact on climate change and help in meeting the UN’s sustainable development goals. Formula One gives us hope for the future, and during a global heatwave, hope is needed now.

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