The Formula E racing series, which we cover quite a lot here at CleanTechnica, has managed to quickly attract a relatively large fan base owing to its environmental and emerging-tech credentials, as well as the excitement of the races.
But how “green” are the races really? On that subject, I recently read a post on the Formula E website that went into detail about the mobile generators that are used to recharge the electric vehicles used in the races — mobile generators that run on glycerine.
The company commissioned a British firm known as Aquafuel Research to construct a pair of generators that could fit in a shipping container and be easily moved from race location to race location.
The reason that glycerine was chosen for the generator fuel source, rather than other options, was that glycerine burns very cleanly.
“What we do is provide an electric power and distribution system in a very controlled way so that the cars can be charged in an hour in a very safe and reliable way that is fair to all the teams,” explained Paul Day, the CEO of Aquafuel. “The really beautiful thing about it is that we do that with our own patented renewable energy generators using a really clean fuel — clean in terms of carbon emissions and clean in terms of the local air quality, very low in NOx emissions, very low in particulate emissions — there’s no smoke.”
The design of the generators is based around a standard Cummins KTA50 diesel generator — with modifications made so as to utilize Aquafuel’s patented glycerine generator technology. (Glycerine can be produced as a byproduct of biodiesel production.)
“If sustainability means anything, I think it means using any material to the best affect that you possibly can — if you want to want to eat pork sustainably, you’d better eat the whole pig — that’s really what we’re looking at,” Day continued. “So we started a research project with Greenergy into how you could use glycerine as an engine fuel. We had to do quite a lot of research work before we came up with the combustion cycle that meant you could burn glycerine in a diesel engine.
“It is quite surprising how everything seems to be positive: its lubricity is much better than diesel, so all of the moving parts in the injection system are lubricated much better and they stay clean. Because you don’t produce any soot and particulates the oil stays clean and because the exhaust is so clean the catalysts for cleaning the emissions stay in really good condition and stay in their best operating zone the whole time as they never get clogged up. On top of all that, astonishingly, it’s more efficient than diesel is in the same engine.”
The Aquafuel generators “on site provide 42 kW (kilowatts) of electricity per car,” which “equates to about 850 kW of power if 20 cars are plugged in at once.”
Day claims that the production of glycerine from saltwater alga could be commercially viable within only 3 to 5 years. It’s hard to know how serious to take that claim, but as a whole, the technology is an interesting one.