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Fasten Your Seat Belts: Formula 1 Racing to the Carbon Neutral Finish Line

Kate Zerrenner headshotWords by Kate Zerrenner
Energy & Environment
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Last week, Formula 1 (F1) announced an ambitious plan to become net-zero carbon by 2030; in addition, all F1 Grand Prix races will be “sustainable” by 2025. This is a significant announcement, considering the sport produces well over 250,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year across its ten teams and 21 races. That is the equivalent of the annual electricity use by approximately 45,000 homes in the U.S. The target will be met through a number of different initiatives, including:

  • 100 percent renewable energy at F1 offices, facilities and factories.
  • Elimination of single-use plastics.
  • Recycling or composting 100 percent of all waste.

The biggest changes, however, will be in the vehicles themselves. F1’s goals include a plan to develop car engines into carbon-neutral power units with increased efficiency and the use of synthetic fuel that can capture carbon.

F1 has long been at the forefront for technology development. One little known fact about F1 cars is that they are already up to 20 percent more efficient than the standard road vehicle. Technology is a cornerstone of the sport, with continuous improvements to efficiency and aerodynamics; while such innovations are not intended initially for the reduction of emissions, they do have a knock-on positive effect.

Travel and logistics are responsible for the bulk of Formula 1 emissions—nearly three-quarters of all emissions, in fact. There are over 20 races a year, and moving the cars and equipment is a huge undertaking, not to mention travel of race personnel and spectators. In 2020, there will be a record 22 races, with nine in Europe and the remaining 13 spread out across world, including the U.S., Australia, China, the Middle East and Brazil. Formula 1 aims to boost efficiency and opt for low- or zero-carbon options wherever available. Whatever cannot be replaced in the sustainability plan will have to be offset.

An argument could be made that Formula 1 draws its boldness from the environment in which much of its fan base is located. The bulk of its teams and races are in Europe. The European Union has had a carbon emissions trading scheme since 2005 and is the home to the Paris climate accords, with many individual member countries pursuing ambitious climate goals.

For a sport that is based on fossil fuels, Formula 1’s goals are a bold statement, putting the organization at the forefront of sustainable racing initiatives. NASCAR has had a sustainability program called NASCAR Green, in place for over a decade and focusing on things like fuel and tire recycling, blended fuels and some renewable energy. IndyCar has similar initiatives and made a move toward hybrid engines like those being developed in F1. Another recent development in racing is Formula E, an all-electric race circuit, which is acting as a test bed for electric vehicle technologies in race cars. Seeing whether F1 incorporates any of these electric technologies remains to be seen.

Formula 1’s plan is the latest in a string of announcements from businesses, notably those within the sports and entertainment industry, taking the lead on curtailing climate change. This initiative can serve as an example for other sports and organizations that achieving climate goals is possible. If the sport with the fastest race cars in the world can do it, couldn’t anyone?

Image credit: Nick Fewings/Unsplash

Kate Zerrenner headshotKate Zerrenner

Kate is a writer and policy wonk, with a focus on water, clean energy, climate change and environmental security. She spent over a decade running energy-water nexus and energy efficiency programs at Environmental Defense Fund as well as time at the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense, U.S. Government Accountability Office, and state and federal legislatures. She serves as an Advisory Board member of CleanTX, which aims to accelerate the growth of the clean tech industry in Texas.

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