A Greener Formula

F1 racing introducing biofuels, hybrid engines

A Greener Formula

Big news for Formula One and its environmental impact: As of 2012, teams can use biomass-derived fuels, but the big change comes in 2013 with the introduction of hybrid engines.

Technology alert! Currently, all F1 cars use 2.4-liter V8s: As of 2013, everyone will move over to four cylinder 1.6-liter engines with high-pressure gasoline injection and energy recovery systems. The technology changes are expected to create a 35% savings in fuel consumption.

This will probably cause some ears to perk up around Austin's U.S. Grand Prix project headquarters in advance of their 2012 start date. Project head honcho Tavo Hellmund has made no secret of his interest in working with UT Austin's algae bank (perfect for researching biomass fuel production) and he's a big proponent of flywheel and energy recovery tech.

The new rules were approved by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile's World Motor Sport Council at their meeting in Monaco today. In a statement, the FIA said that the 2013 engine specs "[underline] underlining the FIA’s commitment to improving sustainability and addressing the needs of the automotive industry."

Energy recovery is not exactly new ground for F1: Last decade, several teams experimented with KERS or Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems. That's a system attached to recover lost energy, using either a small electrical generator on the transmission or a flywheel attached to the brakes to store kinetic energy. Currently, no team uses either system, but that doesn't mean it's a debunked piece of tech: Back in 2008, drivers were seeing their lap times improve by between 0.1 and 0.4 seconds, which can be a major game changer in a tight race.

Just because it's not currently being used by F1 cars, that doesn't mean KERS isn't being used in other motorsports. Industry leaders Williams Hybrid Power recently picked up the Powertrain Innovation of the Year award at the 2010 Professional Motorsport World Expo for their work on the Porsche 911 GT3R hybrid project. Williams will be looking to expand their research and production facilities in the next few years, and its staff have visited Austin already.

The new engines are the headline among a whole slew of changes approved by the council. For non-gear head, non-enviro race fans, the biggest change is probably the ending of team orders: That's always been a pretty controversial rule, and one that a lot of fans have argued has been blatantly ignored by teams when it benefits them. There could also be a serious change in the way races are watched, with the announcement that team communications will be made available to broadcasters.

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