F1 announced a big step towards net zero carbon by 2030 and staging sustainable events by 2025 earlier this week and Pat Symonds now explains initial steps towards it.

When F1 revealed its intention to go net zero carbon by 2030 and have sustainable events by 2025, the big question was how were they to achieve it. Many confused the idea as shifting towards electric, without actually understanding the meaning.

Net zero carbon can be achieved by balancing emissions and or removing carbon emissions all-together. Although not clear but for now it looks like, F1 is adopting the first method, with the first step being, achieving the sustainable goal by 2025.

Ahead of this weekend’s Brazil GP weekend, where we are to get first reactions of the drivers and team officials, F1 Chief Technical Officer, Symonds has explained the initial steps which the sport is to take, especially towards fuel and internal combustion engine.

Here’s the answers from Symonds – in full – regarding the various aspects: 

– Eliminating carbon emissions from current ICE but how?

Symonds: “One of the key elements will be the fuel F1 uses in the future. Currently, under Article 19.4.4 of the FIA’s 2019 technical regulation for F1 a minimum of 5.75% (m/m) of the fuel must comprise bio‐components. We want to go to 100% – that’s the target. For 2021, we are looking to increase to 10% and the idea is to increase that over time.”

– What is bio element and bio fuel and different generations of fuels?

Symonds: “It is a word that gets bandied about quite a lot, so we prefer to use the phrase advanced sustainable fuels. At the moment the bio content specified in regulations is reasonably free but what has happened is that the fuel companies in F1 have largely ended up using a very similar product and it’s quite expensive.

“So in 2021 we will move to 10% bio elements, but we’re going to specify that it is an advanced sustainable ethanol, a very particular type of biofuel. As for the generations, first generation biofuels were largely made from food stock. Crops were grown – particularly in America – that could have been used for food, but instead they were used to make fuel.

“While the US could afford to do that because of its extensive land mass and its wealth, it wasn’t generally felt that was a positive path due to the effect such crop growth might have on the food chain. As a result, second generation biofuels are basically fuels that don’t have a significant impact on the food chain.

“They either use food waste, the husks of corn for example, or biomass, for example forestry waste, or indeed household waste. Finally, there are third generation biofuels, sometimes called the e-fuels or synthetic fuel, and without going into too much chemistry, these are the more advanced fuels.

“They’re often called drop-in fuels because you can effectively just put them into any engine, without modification, whereas engines that run on extreme ethanol mixes, such as used in Brazil, require alteration. In the interest of getting the ball rolling and to keep costs down, we’ve specified 10% advanced sustainable ethanol for F1 2021.

“But our ambitions go beyond that and as I say, we want to get to 100% advanced sustainable fuel. The path to that is not completely clear at the moment but in partnership with the FIA and with the help of the engine manufacturers and the fuel companies, we are looking at the way forward. In fact, our next meeting on the matter takes place this week.”

– Staying with ICE and using it to develop better technology, but why?

Symonds: “It’s certainly true that there is a move for light duty vehicles to move to electric powertrains, but the fact remains that over 1 billion of the 1.1 billion vehicles in the world fleet are powered by ICEs and there is great potential within that number to reduce carbon emissions globally. Electric power is attractive, but it’s currently still quite difficult to scale that up.

“With any of the technologies on the horizon at the moment an electric truck or an electric aircraft is not a particularly feasible product. So, there is still a case for having liquid hydrocarbon fuels in trucks and in aircraft. However, what we cannot do is carry on digging those out of the ground, we’re going to have to somehow synthesise them and that’s what we want Formula 1 to explore and hopefully to lead.”

– How environmentally friendly the fuels will be?

Symonds: “Because they are synthesised, they don’t have some of the bad components found in fossil fuels. Sulphur, for example. The sulphur content of fossil fuels has to be much lower now than it used to be, but when you synthesise a fuel, you don’t need sulphur in it, so you just don’t put it in. It can be a very clean fuel.

“The products of combustion are the same, so you are going to produce oxides of nitrogen and you are going to produce particulates but a modern Formula 1 engine is very, very low on particulates because combustion is now so efficient, and that efficiency is entirely the product of Formula 1’s ability to drive innovation in pursuit of performance gain.”

– How much or if at all F1 can help in contributing to clean fuel development?

Symonds: “There definitely is. The easy thing would be if we could produce these drop-in fuels, but we can’t produce enough of it at the moment, it’s at too low a technology readiness level, but I think that what we can do is we can show the world that there are alternatives to electric power and there are alternatives to storing electricity in heavy and, I have to say, somewhat dirty batteries.

“F1 didn’t invent the hybrid, but F1 showed what a hybrid could be and it moved people’s perceptions of what a hybrid is capable of and I think we can do the same with new fuel technology and hopefully demonstrate that another viable alternative energy source is possible.”

– Whats for F1 teams and drivers from this movement and the performance gains?

Symonds: “There absolutely is a performance gain to be had here. With the next F1 engine, I think we will certainly be setting slightly different goals for it. With the 2014 engine, the idea was to limit fuel flow and that really pushed manufacturers to seek high combustion efficiency, though to be honest, I’m not sure anyone thought we’d get to 50%, which is quite remarkable.

“However, for the next engine, I think what we’re going to say is that we want to target 60% total efficiency and then discuss what technologies can get us there. When the next engine does come along, we have a chance to develop a real game changer, where you’re tailoring the fuel and the engine together and that really does lead to some much more interesting possibilities.”

– How much are engine manufactures and fuel companies in-sync here?

Symonds: “Our ambitions are all aligned. It’s early days and I don’t think any of us have completely decided on the road map yet, other than this first move in 2021 to 10% but we are meeting regularly, and within the next few months we’ve got to look at what the road map is to a fully sustainable fuel.

“I think it’s important to say that I don’t think it will be easy, but anything of value requires ingenuity, commitment and the will to make a change. And if we can do it, I think there’s another great contribution story from motorsport to the world at large.”

Here’s the release from F1 on their big announcement