NASCAR Goes Green

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NASCAR switches to E15 ethanol

Auto racing hasn’t traditionally been a bastion of sustainability. The core of its appeal is dozens of gas-powered cars screaming around a track, as fast as they can, gulping down gallons of fuel, and spitting out fumes all the way.

But America’s most popular motorsport is trying to change that perception and become more environmentally friendly. energyNOW! correspondent Lee Patrick Sullivan made a pit stop at a recent NASCAR race to see how it is greening auto racing by switching to biofuels. The entire segment is available below:

NASCAR’s Green Innovation initiative has many impressive aspects including landfill diversion from events, recycling tires and used motor oil, and tree planting offset programs. But the initiative’s biggest impact may be waving a green flag at a switch to biofuels from gasoline.

All cars that compete in official NASCAR racing now run on an E15 biofuel blend, a mix of 15 percent corn ethanol and traditional racing fuel. The directive began in February at the Daytona 500, and as of this fall, more than one million miles of racing have been completed on the new fuel blend.

Initial concerns about racing performance were soon dispelled by the people who would know best – the sport’s drivers. “We experienced more horsepower, cleaner burns, and a cleaner-burning engine for the environment,” said driver Clint Bowyer. “This has been a win-win for everybody involved.”

While the transition to E15 has gone seamlessly, it required additional planning by the sport and fuel suppliers. The challenge was to prevent separation, a situation where the biofuel picks up water during transportation, and can then separate and stop a vehicle dead in its tracks.

The solution was twofold: end the practice of storing racing fuel in underground tanks, and introduce a new type of pit stop fuel can that added hoses and valves to keep moisture out.

NASCAR may be the newest member of the racing world to shift biofuels, but it’s not the first. The Indy Racing League (IRL) has been running on ethanol since 2005, and cars at the Indy 500 run on 100 percent sugarcane ethanol. “If high-performance, high-horsepower racecars can run on 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol, surely you should have confidence in your passenger car to run on a blend,” said Terry Angstadt, president of IRL’s commercial division.

And, with such a large following, NASCAR’s biofuel transition could have a much bigger impact than just reducing racing’s environmental footprint. As fans become aware of the switch, they may become more comfortable with alternative fuel vehicles. When asked about the switch, one dedicated fan supported the move. “I think it’s a fantastic thing, and it’s about time, and I wish we had it in more regular cars.”

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