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Motorsports Are Trying to Reduce Carbon Impact

Sam Abuelsamid
Aug 17, 2023

Guidehouse Insights Sustainability

When most people think about motorsports, they think of speed, action, and noise. But this sport also consumes a lot of energy, and organizers of various series around the world have been working for many years to reduce its environmental impact. As with industry, that impact includes much more than just the final product—greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced along the entire value chain, and 2023 has brought several moves in the right direction.

Energy for Propulsion

Electrification and alternatives to fossil-based liquid fuels have been a growing part of motorsports for more than 2 decades. In 1998, Panoz launched the Esperante Q9 GTR-1 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. While it failed to qualify there, it ran several other races that year before being retired because the technology wasn’t yet mature enough. A decade later, Corsa Motorsport debuted another hybrid prototype sports car that did a bit better but was still underfunded. However, in 2012 Audi launched the R18 e-tron hybrid, and every Le Mans race since then has been won by an electrified race car that uses less than half the fuel required in 2011.

In 2014, Formula 1 (F1) adopted new rules mandating hybrid power units, which now achieve greater than 50% thermodynamic efficiency. The new LMDh (Le Mans Daytona hybrid) prototypes that have debuted at IMSA and the World Endurance Championship (WEC) are also exclusively hybrids, with IndyCar going hybrid in 2024 and NASCAR expected to follow suit in the next few years.

All of these machines still use liquid fuels as well, but those are also becoming more sustainable. IndyCars have been using alcohol fuels for decades, first methanol and now ethanol. In the WEC, 2023 brought the debut of TotalEnergies’ Excellium Racing 100 fuel, made from wine production grape residues. When the next major F1 rules change takes effect in 2026, the power units will use more electrical power and 100% carbon-neutral synthetic fuel.

But hybridization is just one piece of the propulsion puzzle. 2023 brought the debut of the third-generation Formula E battery electric racers. These cars, which can run at over 200 mph, now feature more power and regenerative braking capabilities from all four wheels. The Hankook-supplied tires feature biomaterials and sustainable rubber, and in-race DC fast charging is now available.

The Rest of the Chain

Attendees at any major racing event will find corporate hospitality areas where teams vet suppliers, partners, and sponsors. These are usually powered by noisy diesel generators. This year the Andretti Autosport team at IndyCar is using a new microturbine-powered generator supplied by Capstone Green Energy. Besides operating more quietly, these turbine generators are fueled by renewable biogas.

In 2022, the Penske team began evaluating the Freightliner eCascadia semitruck, and as electric trucks and ultrafast charging becomes more available, these are expected to play an ever increasing role in moving teams from track to track.

In the grand scheme of things, motorsports only represent a tiny fraction of total energy use and emissions, but it is a highly visible fraction. Given the media and fan attention generated by racing, it’s good to see governing bodies, manufacturers, and teams making a concerted effort to set a positive example for what is possible without sacrificing the traditional excitement.