Green machines

1 min read

It’s fair to say that motorsport hasn’t had the greatest press lately. Leaving aside the leisure activities of its senior executive, this isn’t the greatest time for a carbon-unfriendly sport. And the carbon footprint of motor-racing could probably dwarf some countries.

The sport often tries to present itself as a proving-ground for technologies that eventually find their way into road cars, which makes its latest incarnation rather interesting. Formula Zero, a cart-racing competition which had its first race last weekend, uses vehicles powered by commercial hydrogen fuel cells.

Already accredited by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, Formula Zero has attracted teams from the UK, US, Netherlands, Spain and Belgium. The teams race in several events, including a sprint and an endurance race. The UK’s representative, Imperial College London’s Imperial Racing Green, came third in the competition, with the most reliable vehicle, although a Spanish team came top for speed.

It’s an enticing view of things to come, with performance and excitement being the priorities for the designers — not criteria which often come to mind when you think of electric cars. Leaving aside the question of whether fuel cell cars are in themselves low-emission (they aren’t — their emission profile depends on how the hydrogen was produced), they certainly have the potential to reduce carbon footprint.

Coming at the same time as a report from European lobbying group Transport & Environment which claims that Europe’s motor industry will miss its targets for reducing emissions from new cars, the Formula Zero championships give us a look into the future. Motorsport is a key component of the glamour of the car: associating that glamour with cutting edge and (potentially) low emission technology could provide the kick to throw public opinion behind non-fossil fuel cars.

Imperial Racing Green’s team leader, Greg Offer, says that motorsport needs to embrace zero or low emission principles in the next ten years if it is to survive at all. With the organisers of Formula Zero planning to expand to Formula Three standard in the future, it will be fascinating to see whether this is an example of motorsport piloting new technology.

Stuart Nathan

Special Projects Editor