How innovation within motorsport can provide solutions to climate change

Wednesday 03 November 2021

Hugh Chambers, CEO, Motorsport UK

The question for motorsport is how can it make a positive contribution to solving the challenges of climate change?

Today is ‘This is Engineering Day’. An initiative by the Royal Academy of Engineering to amplify a conversation during COP26 around how the genius of engineering can help solve the existential problem of climate change.

Motorsport employs some of the world’s greatest engineering minds. In the past, they have answered the call to bolster the safety and efficiency of road cars.

Innovations such as the aerodynamics of road cars enabling better fuel economy. Disc brake technology redefining vehicle safety. The evolution of efficient batteries for electric vehicles. Even safety belts and crash helmets were first pioneered in motorsport.

All are innovations which have transcended from motorsport into the wider automotive industry – improving the quality of lives across the world.

It is accepted that one way to tackle climate change is through the adoption of electric vehicles and this represents an important part of the solution. However, there are over 1.3 billion cars with internal combustion engines in the world today. Their replacement and decommissioning will at best take many years – so we need to have a meaningful discussion around how they can be sustainably fuelled but with net zero impact on the environment.

One answer can come from the motorsport industry.

The innovative work being done by ex Formula One Technical Director Paddy Lowe is centred on a project called Zero Petroleum designed to create sustainable zero impact hydrocarbons. Right now, his team are working on the creation of fully sustainable synthetic fuels through the recycling of emissions, such as water and carbon dioxide, using renewable green energy to fuel the process. As Lowe puts it – ‘in many circumstances it simply isn’t feasible to move away from petroleum, so the question is how do we make it synthetically?’. Creating net zero petroleum based products will not only benefit the 1.3 billion existing road cars using an internal combustion engine, but also provide solutions for many parts of the world where the challenges of electrical infrastructure will make universal conversion to EV’s a logistical hurdle.

In addition to pure synthetic fuels, we already have second generation biofuels available that leverage the potential of agricultural waste to power some of the world’s motorsport championships including the World Rally Championship. In the UK, The British Touring Car Championship’s new-for-2022 fuel – designated Hiperflo® R20 – has a total of 20% renewable components, comprising 15% second generation ethanol content and 5% of renewable hydrocarbons. It is calculated by the manufacturer that this will give approximately an 18% reduction in greenhouse gasses when compared to current pump fuel, significantly lowering the fuel’s impact on the environment. This is just the first step in an ambitious plan to ensure the sustainability of motorsport in the UK.

At Motorsport UK we advocate for the responsible consumption and production of fuels. It’s part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals which we are wholly committed towards – coupled with our commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.

That’s why for all competitions managed by Motorsport UK, we will endeavour to make sustainable fuels available and help our members adopt sustainable fuels across our series – from our world leading British Formula 4 Championship to our long established British Rally Championship.

The technological prowess of engineers who are creating sustainable fuels is remarkable. We are excited to see their rapid evolution for the wider automotive industry as the world confronts climate change.