British motor racing engineer Pat Symonds, who is currently the Chief Technical Officer of Formula 1, has provided more details about the process and thinking behind the idea of Formula One developing its own sustainable fuel in the next years.
For the 2026 F1 campaign, teams will no longer be allowed to make use of fossil fuels, with the sport targeting a carbon zero plan by 2030.
As a result, there has been a lot of focus on the research process needed for the development of alternative fuel. There are currently two separate methods being analyzed.
Formula 1 will attempt to use new deposits of carbon for its fuel. At the same time, for Formula 2 there is a goal set for 2027 in terms of producing fuel using carbon capture technology.
“There’s sustainable aviation fuel, there’s hydrogen and there are so many different terms that it can get quite confusing,” Pat Symonds pointed out – “But what we really mean by a sustainable fuel is one where the hydrogen comes from sustainable sources. It comes from either using wind power or solar power to produce the electricity that splits up hydrogen from water.” – the F1 Chief Technical Officer added.
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“And the carbon must be extracted from carbon that wasn’t deposited millions of years ago, it wasn’t carbon that’s from a fossil source, it’s carbon that has been recently in the atmosphere, has probably gone into a plant or into waste or whatever, and we extract it again. We produce the fuel from it and we use it once more. So really, this is where we get our neutrality from, the fact that carbon is in a circular path; it’s going from the plant, to the fuel, into the air, into the plant into the fields, fully circular path.” – he continued.
“And of course, all the manufacturing, and the transport and everything like that all comes into the lifecycle analysis of this fuel, so we really need to make all of that carbon neutral as well.”
As Pat Symonds explained, this is a highly ambitious idea and goal, both in terms of reaching carbon zero but also producing the fuel. At the moment, it can only be done in a lab.
It is worth pointing out that there is an aspect strongly linked to social responsibility in this plan of the Formula One top management.
Formula 1 single-seaters on track are responsible for 0.7 percent of the sport’s carbon footprint, which means that sustainable fuel will in fact not have such a big impact.
Yet, there is a different thinking behind this plan as Formula One is clearly looking to lead the way in a key role:
“If we’re using 100 percent sustainable fuel, if we’re showing it’s a drop in fuel, it’s a fuel that we can use in cars with an absolute minimum of modifications – by that I mean a little bit of remapping and things like that, but no real physical changes to the car – then we’re producing something that has a benefit to all the internal combustion engines that are out there,” Pat Symonds confirmed.
“The global car park is predicted to be about 1.4 [billion] cars by 2030 and of those, the vast majority will still have internal combustion engines. So if we can fill all those cars with a sustainable fuel, we really will make a big difference to the whole global warming scene.” – he added.
That is a key target, not one Pat Symonds feels can be achieved by 2030, instead predicting 2050 as a more probable deadline.
“So really, this is something that if we can demonstrate in Formula 1 that you can produce a fuel that is sustainable, that is carbon neutral, that can be produced at scale, or can be produced at a sensible price, and then goes out into the entire carpark, then we really are getting somewhere, I think.”
Formula 2 has already started to use a 55 percent sustainable fuel in the 2023 campaign year, and is expected to be 100 percent sustainable for 2027 – the carbon capture aspect requiring additional time to be finalized and ready to be produced in the big quantities of fuel needed.