F1's Sustainable Fuel Could Keep It Relevant In The Automotive Industry

Recent innovations in F1 have largely been divorced from gains in the automotive sphere — but sustainable fuel options could change that.

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Photo: Bryn Lennon (Getty Images)

Formula One is often held up as the pinnacle of motorsport, in large part because it has historically pushed automotive technology to its limits, which then in some cases helped automakers develop faster, safer road cars — but that hasn’t been the case for the past several years, at least not in any obvious way. But F1's push to develop sustainable fuels might just be the thing that revives its importance in the automotive sphere.

F1 has been talking about pursuing sustainable fuels for a while now, and it has reupped its commitment to that goal recently by saying that this so-called “fuel of the future” will be part of F1's official regulations starting in 2025.

Basically, this is F1's attempt to avoid going fully electric by creating a fuel source for its combustion engines that’s 100 percent renewable.

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“Renewable” has become a buzzword in almost all aspects of life, but the fact of the matter remains that consumers aren’t going out and buying EVs in droves. The first half of 2021 has seen record-breaking EV sales (the 310,000 sold so far this year almost hits 2020's total number of EVs sold), but there’s still no indication that we’ll hit one million sales per year any time soon. People are still going for the tried-and-true combustion engine, and F1 doesn’t seem to be interested in giving up on it either.

How that will actually happen remains a mystery. F1 has experimented with trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and transforming it into fuel. Or, F1 could power its cars with municipal waste, algae, or agricultural waste. Whatever it opts for, F1 wants the energy density from that fuel source to match the energy density of burning gasoline, thereby not impacting the vehicle’s performance.

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Any of those options could change the way the automotive world at large views combustion, but carbon capture is an extremely fascinating premise. Not only would F1 be able to power its vehicles by drawing CO2 from the atmosphere, but that would open up the possibility for all combustion engines to become CO2 consuming machines, not CO2 producing machines, by transforming carbon into fuel.

That would make for an incredible transfer of technology, especially because most other carbon capture technologies have been introduced on much larger, industrial scales. Introducing carbon capture technology for personal use, especially in the form of ICE power, would likely be the biggest impact F1 has had on the automotive world in a while.

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And that transfer of tech could maintain F1's relevance as a technological playground during an era where stricter regulations and cost-capping measures prevent much play in things like aerodynamic development. Were F1 to aid in developing a form of carbon-capture technology that could be used in race cars and then, later, in one’s personal automobile, the series would benefit from the kind of international engineering acclaim it once possessed rather than sticking it out as a series falling increasingly behind the times.