F1’s biofuel debate could move out to 2025

Biofuels. That’s the wave of the future unless you recently read the Wall Street journal article about Japan announcing they would be gunning for an all-electric reality in 2030. This left the head of Toyota suggesting that this aggressive edict would overload the electric grid, which wasn’t designed for this level of power demand, and be the death of the car industry business model.

Nothing to fear because Formula 1 has taken a slower approach to the evolution of the car industry with its press for biofuels—currently at 5.75%—to the Everest levels of 10% by 2022. This is a big advancement and it dovetails into their continuance with the hybrid power unit model for 2022 onward.

The issue at hand is a desire to revolutionize the automotive industry but the the desire outpaces the technology and the limited imagination of current “visionaries” seems flummoxed by the very real notion that as a species, we are pretty good at creating energy but not so good at storing it and that’s the real challenge isn’t it? Not the act of storing energy but simply the act of admitting we aren’t that good at it yet.

The humility it takes to admit that storing energy is a very difficult thing and that we haven’t really mastered that feat is something I appreciate about F1 up to this point. They are being prudent in their desire to wade into the shallow end of the “future automobile power” pool instead of diving headlong into the deep end with this silly notion that only large city-dwelling folks are in need of transportation and they can live with the glory that is the Nissan Leaf.

Meanwhile the farmer with 3,000 acres of fields to plant and harvest every year finds the Nissan Leaf a difficult farm utensil and will continue to create energy on demand and maybe even tinker with a hybrid model using biofuels because the very thing they harvest may be in that biofuel and that’s commerce.

Formula 1 has taken a more measured approach to the power unit with their biofuel concept and now it seems that there is a discussion to slow that process down a tad lest they get ahead of themselves. You see this E10 fuels was originally slated for 2021 and with the COVID-19 impact, the technical regulations have been moved back but the biofuel issue remains.

It is also compounded by Red Bull’s desire to initiate an engine freeze so it can continue to use Honda’s racing engines for a year even though Honda has decided to retreat from the F1 battlefield—perhaps it has the pressure of Japan on its shoulders to figure out a EV solution in 8 years or else.

Red Bull can’t sink a fortune in evolving the existing Honda engine so a freeze would allow it to have the Honda engine, not overspend on trying to become an engine manufacturer while F1 heads to an all-new format in 2022.

In my mind, demanding the existing engine converts to E10 for a year is an expense Red Bull most likely wouldn’t want although Mercedes is completely fine with it.

“My preference would be probably not to do the E10 fuel,” Horner said.

“It’s a development direct requirement for 2022, and [we’d prefer to] just bring in a completely sustainable core fuel with a new engine [instead of] going another 5% on the E10 for the current fuel.

“I’m not sure it’s a huge message, whereas 2026 – which may become 2025 – is if it’s a fully-sustainable fuel.

“There will be consequences to introducing that fuel and that consequence obviously is inevitably costly.”

The challenge compounds as F1 would like to move to 100% sustainable fuels in 2025 and as you can imagine, that means cost and that’s going to be challenging for a series that has only three engine manufacturers at the moment.

If Renault or Mercedes decide to leave and the regulation specify a very complex hybrid engine using 100% sustainable fuels, I wonder how quickly they could find a replacement manufacturer and would any Japanese company be willing since their nation has them pinned to the wall over a EV future in eight years?

Tough times, tough decisions.

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I would love to hear what someone would say about a switch to 100% methanol. The technology is already there–Indy used M100 for decades. And there’s reports of M100 having about an 80% reduction in hydrocarbons vs. using gasoline.

Even further, companies such as CRI have started to explore carbon-neutral methods of producing methanol. Why is this not discussed with regard to F1 future tech?

Simon Hallows

I believe that though it has a higher octane rating than regular pump fuel it doesn’t burn that well and you need to carry more fuel. Also once burned the by products are more corrosive to parts, plus it’s quite toxic. If they went this route they’d need to allow far more engine part changes per season which adds more expense ( so they claim, though if you could fully replace an engine every race wouldn’t it be possible to make more less perfect less resilient engines cheaper?)