Green Auto Racing

Below is another much appreciated contribution from Joanne Ivancic

Green Auto Racing? How Can That Be? Joanne M. Ivancic
Executive Director
Advanced Biofuels USA

On August 28 and 29, a group of well-connected “car guys” (male and female) got together to discuss the future of personal transportation in the world. They did so through the prism of international car racing. They met with the objective of making racing as relevant to consumer autos as it was during the early days of the Indianapolis 500 when race drivers realized they needed to see to their sides and behind them, resulting in the development of the first rear-view mirrors.

The first day of animated discussion and otherworldly thoughts was brought to us by the Motorsport Industry Association under the title, MIA Sustainable Motorsports Conference. For this UK-based organization, the UK Trade & Investment took a leadership role, as did American Le Mans Series(ALMS) Racing and IndyCar Racing (the Danica Patrick races). Sponsorship and speakers also came from GM, Lotus, Torotrak, Ricardo, Automotive Design and Production and the British American Business Council.

What do you think of this idea created by Tim Holland of Lotus Engineering? To have a series of races to see who can do the most with a set “package” of power. That is, to use the design, motor and fuel needed not only to come across the finish line first, but to go that distance leaving the smallest carbon footprint possible.

This is what these forward-looking elements of the motorsports industry want to do in the future. They want to serve as the testing grounds for ideas that will translate into technology that has relevance to today’s and tomorrow’s real transportation challenges.
The future actually started with the use of bioethanol in Indy Cars; improved with the use of cellulosic (non-food-based) ethanol in ALMS racers; and keeps getting better with the use of biodiesel in the Audi prototypes. Those Audis are so quiet compared to the others they seem like angels dancing around the track.

The power of ethanol as a reliable, powerful vehicle fuel is promoted vividly in IndyCar Racing with the No. 17 Team Ethanol IndyCar,” driven by Rahal-Letterman’s (yes, David Letterman’s) Ryan Hunter-Reay.

But now that’s the past. Things are moving fast in the world of transportation fuels and vehicle design.

The first American Le Mans Series Green Challenge ™ race will be run in Atlanta at the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 4.
Race car performance, fuel efficiency and minimized environmental impact are the goals. Representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy/Argonne National Laboratory, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and SAE International, formerly known as the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), along with the American Le Mans Series, have developed a formula that involves more than 30 pieces of data and measurements and ranks each car by the amount of energy used, greenhouse gasses emitted and petroleum displaced.

Harking back to the days in the 1960s when mechanics and engineers worked their magic on aerodynamics, suspension and brakes (discoveries which are still relevant in current auto design) to make cars stay on the road at 200 mph down the Le Mans straight-away; the engineers from Lotus, GM, Ricardo and others want to show what they can do to make cars go faster, use less fuel, have fine designs and do it all as experiments for real-life sustainable transportation needs.
Sure, it also makes economic and business sense. This is a new way to look at flagging markets. Someone woke up and recognized that the car racing industry has the skills and resources of elite professionals to figure out the best way to put new fuels to work, to tailor the whole powertrain and design to work more efficiently. That, then, will provide improved performance for regular folks, just like it used to be in the days of “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday.”

Racing organizations and owners are used to spending money to feed their competitive spirits. Why not make them useful? With racing icons Indy Champion Bobby Rahal and racing pioneer Lyn St. James on hand, the mechanical side of the formula was set. The next day focused on new fuels—biofuels.

Not confined to “green” fuels, GM illustrated how classy promotional materials can be created with recycled forest products with its bound informational materials for the GM/Michigan State University Office of Biobased Technologies Biofuels Summit.

Brazilian Indy 500 and Formula One Champion, ethanol refiner Emerson Fittapaldi, brought some glamour to the stage. Along with Joel Velasco, he described the current state of the Brazilian ethanol ethos and their work expanding the model around the world—learning from, and not repeating Brazil’s mistakes—to become energy self-sufficient.

GM would like to sell its flex-fuel vehicles across the country and around the world. To bring that about they have to work on a number of fronts. First, the fuels must be available—otherwise there is no need for the car; second, the cars and fuel can’t cost more than comparable ones; third, people need to know about them and understand what all the fuss is about.

Thus, GM is looking to the relatively long-term by investing in cellulosic ethanol production with Coskata, Inc., and Mascoma Corp., to address the first challenge—getting ethanol in all markets; not just the mid-west where E85 pumps are plentiful. Randy Kramer of KL Process Design Group’s “zero-radius” concept fits the fuel-production technology to the environment and co-locates refineries with existing biomass waste industries.

The audience and speakers at these meetings seemed more excited about the short-term possibilities of new fuels powering personal and commercial transportation. The underlying feeling, supported by GM’s biofuels chief Coleman Jones’ presentation the day before, was to have more faith in the promise of advanced biofuels than in that of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles such as GM’s experimental Volt. GM is definitely not putting all its eggs in that one basket. In addition to investing in advanced ethanol, looking toward advanced biogasolines (or grassoline as MSU’s Bruce Dale christened it), GM sent out into the everyday world 100 fuel cell cars for beta testing.

Recognizing that people want to go the as far as possible on a gallon of whatever fuel they use, and that they are disappointed when a gallon of E85 only takes them about 2/3 of where they can go on a gallon of gasoline, the US Department of Energy contracted with Lotus to come up with something. Lotus developed an engine that, using existing technologies such as variable timing and increased compression ratio, runs on either gasoline or ethanol getting within 2 mpg of gasoline mileage using ethanol. If only US DOE would release this technology so we can all benefit from the research.

A new world is here. These aren’t “alternative” fuels any more. They are The Fuels. The Sustainable Motorsports Conference and Biofuels Summit participants were certain that we will meet the challenges of how we can most effectively, efficiently and beneficially use our arable land; how we can find the best ways to move people and goods with the smallest carbon footprint (from “well” to wheel); and how we can, through sustainable home-grown energy around the globe, help other nations power their own economies and political development.

I’ll bet it was the closest to a revival atmosphere you can get in a room full of engineers. There was hope and belief and commitment. Pretty heady stuff.

Green auto racing

Another definitive step in Green car racing initiatives is the KERS Hybrid system. KERS stands for kinetic energy recovery system. The system uses a flywheel attached to the race cars wheels, when the car brakes for a pitstop the energy is transferred to a flywheel and explosively released as the car leaves the pit stop. The flywheel energy recovery system has undergone extensive crash and performance testing and is due out in F1 racing in 2009.