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Explained: How Formula 1 is aiming to go carbon neutral by 2030

An audit conducted by the FIA found that F1’s driving activities produce approximately 256,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, which is the equivalent to powering roughly 30,000 houses in the UK over the same time period.

Mumbai |
Updated: April 10, 2021 2:05:19 pm
The 2021 Formula 1 season started with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 28. (AP)

(Written By Mira Patel)

Formula 1 (F1) has increased its global viewership from an average of 83 million viewers per race in 2014 to an average of 87.4 million in 2020. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the audience continued to tune in and the first race of the 2021 season in Bahrain beat Sky and ESPN networks’ viewing records for the event.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton walks back to the paddock after winning the Bahrain Grand Prix. (AP)

For decades, fans have called out the sport’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), to play a greater role in combatting the effects of climate change. However, when six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton publicly expressed his concerns about the issue in 2019, it seemed as though the sport, propelled by its younger fan base, had finally reached its reckoning. In November of that year, the FIA announced its intent to make F1 carbon neutral by 2030 and to have sustainable races by 2025.

What is Formula 1’s current carbon footprint?

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An audit conducted by the FIA found that F1’s driving activities produce approximately 256,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, which is the equivalent to powering roughly 30,000 houses in the UK over the same time period.

The main issue is not the cars themselves, which accounted for only 0.7 per cent of the sport’s emissions in 2019, but the logistics of transporting teams and equipment across the globe. In 2019, road, sea and air logistics for equipment transportation accounted for 45 per cent of F1’s emissions with business travel for teams contributing an additional 27.7 per cent. Rounding up the list, factories and facilities servicing the sport represent 19.3 per cent of emissions, and event operations, another 7.3 per cent.

Worryingly, that 256,000 number doesn’t even factor in the impact of fans, millions of whom require transportation and accommodation on and around the race weekend. If one were to include the emissions generated by fans, the total carbon footprint of F1 catapults to approximately 1.9 million tonnes of C02e generated by the sport annually.

Formula 1’s road towards sustainable development

Formula 1 is often linked to technological developments as no team can remain competitive without making significant improvements to its engine year on year. F1 teams have pioneered many of the fuel saving components that are a staple of modern hybrid engines. In normal internal combustion engines (ICEs), more power is generated by burning more fuel. However, in F1, every car’s fuel flow is limited to the same value and they benefit from having a lighter weight load. Therefore, in order to improve the performance of the car, manufacturers have to find ways to burn fuel more efficiently and consequently, reduce weight and optimise power.

With automobiles, the term ‘thermal efficiency’ is used to describe engine performance. It refers to the percentage of energy from combustion that powers the car’s movement, as opposed to being lost as heat. After F1 switched from the V8 to V6 thermo-hybrid engines in 2014, thermal efficiency increased from 29% to 40% — a significant change that reduced fuel consumption across the sport.

Despite these improvements, F1 teams could not afford to become complacent. Today, the thermal efficiency of F1 cars stands at 50%, a number which makes them more efficient than any other car on the road. These technological developments often trickle down into regular production.

Formula E is the first sport to have reached a net-zero carbon footprint since its inception. (Photo: Twitter/@FIAFormulaE)

F1 teams also have a strong track record of developing technologies that have later been used for commercial production purposes. In 2020, Aerofoil Energy announced that they would be releasing the patent for their Vortex strip, a device which prevents cold spillage from open-faced refrigerators. In supermarket chains where these strips have been introduced, energy savings have doubled, and they are set to becoming a mainstay in refrigerator production moving forward. This technology, which was initially created for the ‘wings’ on F1 cars, is among several innovations that have had a positive impact on other products and industries.

Additionally, in 2020, Formula E announced that it was the first sport to have reached a net-zero carbon footprint since its inception by investing in projects to offset emissions from six seasons of electric racing. It carefully monitored its carbon footprint, optimised transport and logistics, and cut out all single-use plastics on site in order to reach this milestone.

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The 2030 carbon-neutral plan

One of the most high-profile ways in which F1 plans to reduce its environmental impact is through the continued evolution of energy-efficient engines. Starting from 1989 when the FIA Alternative Fuel Commission was formed, F1 has committed to a number of initiatives designed to improve engine efficiency, with the most notable being its global fuel economy initiative in 2007 which aims to reduce fuel consumption by 50% across the competition.

In 2020, the FIA announced that it had developed a 100% sustainable fuel and that engine manufacturers were already in the process of testing it, intending to start using it by 2026. A 100 per cent sustainable fuel essentially represent the third generation and most advanced iteration of biofuels, which typically are made from by-products of industrial or agricultural waste.  F1 cars already use biofuels but current regulations only mandate that the fuel include 5.75% of bio-components. In 2022 that number will increase to 10% and by 2025, when new power units are proposed to enter the competition, the FIA hopes to transition completely to 100% advanced sustainable fuels.

In terms of net reductions within the sport though, the biggest changes will centre around transportation and logistics. With that in mind, the FIA has pledged to move towards “ultra-efficient” travel and logistics and 100% renewably powered offices, facilities and factories. All race day events will be 100% sustainable by 2025, with all waste being recycled, reused or composted.

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