Biofuel Gets The Formula 1 Treatment From Shell & Scuderia Ferrari

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The iconic Formula 1 racing circuit stepped up to the climate action plate last December and pitched a carbon neutral goal for 2021, causing much rejoicing among biofuel fans the world over. F1 is the automotive birthing room of a long string of  technology transfers from the race track to street legal driving. With the new climate goal under its belt, F1 incentivizes big-dollar investors like Shell to pump more money into biofuel R&D, and the racing team of Scuderia Ferrari is already on it.

Formula 1 Biofuel Is Not Like The Others

Although F1 may seem an unlikely center of climate action, its governing body FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) introduced the all-electric Formula E circuit in 2015 to help stimulate public interest in zero emission mobility and keep itself on the cutting edge of automotive technology, too.

The new carbon goal for 2021 amps up the the spotlight on biofuel, and not just any old biofuel. FIA is zeroing in on next generation, waste-derived renewable fuel with the goal of jumping into net zero territory by 2030.

Here, let’s have FIA explain:

“One of the most significant steps to achieving this goal has been the research, development, and production by the FIA’s Technical Department of a 100 % sustainable fuel, developed to stringent F1 specifications, able to power Formula One cars.

“As a second-generation biofuel variety, meaning it is exclusively refined using bio-waste, not intended for human or animal consumption, the first barrels are now with F1’s Power Unit manufacturers for testing and validation.”

Formula 1 Biofuel & A New Powertrain, too

FIA has no intention of handing its off-the-shelf special blend over to Big Oil for as-is usage. The idea is to stimulate R&D on the part of F1 suppliers to meet the new sustainable fuel goal. That applies to other FIA ventures including the European Truck Racing Championship.

Meanwhile, the sustainable fuel directive is dovetailing with Formula 1’s shift to a new hybrid powertrain architecture, as Ross Brawn, Managing Director Motor Sports for Formula 1 explains:

“Formula 1 has long served as platform for introducing next generation advancements in the automotive world. Our top sustainability priority now is building a roadmap for the hybrid engine that reduces emissions and has a real world benefit for road cars. We believe we have the opportunity to do that with a next generation engine that combines hybrid technology with sustainable fuels.”

A Biofuel Performance Boost

Got all that? Good! The basic idea is to leverage decarbonization to juice the excitement factor over Formula 1 racing regardless of whether or not you care about a looming climate catastrophe.

Last spring our friends over at observed that Shell is among the F1 stakeholders prepping for a biofuel future, and they had this to say about the impact of the new fuel on performance:

“Ethanol delivers the cooling benefit because it has nearly three times the heat of vaporisation as regular fuel – which means there is a cooling effect for the incoming charge during the combustion cycle. A cooler intake charge means that engine power will increase.

“Engine manufacturers could chase this straight horsepower gain, or could opt to change the overall design and cooling characteristics to run the engine at a different temperature. This could then have a knock-on effect for the car’s aerodynamics.”

Shell Hearts Scuderia Ferrari

Any port in a storm, as the saying goes. Shell is among the fossil energy stakeholders that have set the global economy down an unsustainable pathway, but it also has deep pockets to even the keel with R&D investments and other investments. The company has been pursuing clean tech in various forms including EV charging and a technology incubator in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

As for biofuel, it looks like Shell will leverage its longtime R&D relationship with Scuderia Ferrari, which goes back to 1929. Along with jumps in automotive technology the two partners have introduced some interesting methodology improvements along they way.

Last fall Shell pulled back the curtain on some of its fuel labwork and noted that up until 2018, the team was limited to investigating about 200 fuel blends per season. Now the sky’s the limit, thanks to the magic of computers.

“New software now enables digital simulation of up to 1 million fuel formulations every season, significantly cutting the number of laboratory fuel tests and helping Scuderia Ferrari reduce the number of engine tests,” Shell explains.

Last week the Shell and Scuderia Ferrari also reaffirmed their partnership with an eyeball on supporting FIA’s 2030 net zero carbon goal.

“The decades long technical and commercial agreement continues in a multi-year partnership with focus on sustainability and technology transfer, from track to road,” Scuderia enthused.

“Our partnership with Ferrari has bred truly remarkable innovations – innovations that Shell regularly relies upon when developing new fuels and lubricants for our customers,” seconded Mattia Binotto, the Managing Director & Team Principal for Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow.

In addition to finding the perfect biofuel together, Scuderia Ferrari and Shell also pledged to keep fine-tuning their V6 turbo-hybrid power unit, which they pitch as “one of the most efficient engines in the world” with a thermal efficiency of 50%.

Wait, What Is Mission Winnow?

Did you catch that thing about Mission Winnow? Doesn’t that sound like the code name for a military training exercise? You know, like Jade Helm or something. So what does it mean when Scuderia Ferrari and Mission Winnow appear in the same sentence?

So many questions! As it turns out, it means that Scuderia Ferrari is a promotional partner of the tobacco giant Philip Morris, and Mission Winnow is, well, let’s have Phillip Morris explain.

Mission Winnow is a PMI-driven initiative to demonstrate our commitment to continuous innovation and development of new solutions that can expedite positive change for society,” Phillip Morris explains.

“Inspired by the drive and dedication of our partners, it articulates how we are transforming our business through science and by adopting a new way of thinking and exploring every option,” they add.

Right you are, Roger Ramjet. As it turns out, there is, or was, a connection between biofuel and tobacco. A few years ago everyone got all excited about teasing tobacco to yield up its biofuel secrets, including sustainable aviation fuel. However, the excitement soon faded. If you have anything new to report, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Meanwhile, Shell has dipped a toe in the waters of turning other forms of vegetation into fuel. In 2017 Shell nailed down exclusive rights to SBI BioEnergy’s patented catalytic biofuel process, with an eye on scaling fine-tuning it and introducing it to the market. That venture seems to have dropped off the media radar, but in the meantime Shell reports that it is moving forward with something it calls IH²® technology, which is trademarked by the Illinois-based Gas Technology Institute.

“The process is an advanced hydropyrolisis technology that uses catalyst processes to remove oxygen from biomass to produce hydrocarbon products from the remaining material,” explains Shell.

Shell has an exclusive deal on that through its Shell Catalyst and Technologies arm, so stay tuned for more on that. As of last summer they were still hammering away at the R&D phase.

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Image: Bioenergy “From Biomass to Biofuels” via Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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