30 June 2009
A checkered flag? No, maybe green
"Let's get green and get green fast."
What better place for that motto than in an auto racing series. So, that means green racing, which is a combination of the traditional pedal to the metal auto racing environment with the concept of cleaner-burning fuels and more energy efficient engines.
Being green, however, does not mean slow.
Green racing is a concept that awards a prize to the fastest car that produces the smallest environmental footprint in a race. The hope is the concept will lead to vital innovations in the cars we use in everyday life, clean up the environment, and help reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
“Race cars actually move the technology of street cars in several ways,” said John C. Glenn, an environmental specialist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “One, the technology of race cars develops at a much faster pace than the technology in street cars. And two, they form the basis of what kind of cars people want. They see cars racing on the track, and that’s the kind of car they want to buy.”
In 2006, the EPA, U.S. Department of Energy, Argonne National Laboratory, and SAE International formed the Green Racing Working Group to establish criteria for this new type of racing. Two years later, the American Le Mans Series said it would become the first racing series to put the environmentally focused competition on the race track.
The first American Le Mans Series race to feature the Green Challenge, essentially a race within a race, fired up last October. Michelin is sponsoring the series for 2009, which has been renamed the Michelin Green X Challenge.
The prize recognizes speedy cars that are eco-friendly based on three primary factors: Energy used, greenhouse gas emitted, and the amount of petroleum displaced by alternative fuels. The complex 30-plus part scoring system, developed by researchers at Argonne National Laboratory, takes vehicle mass and average speed into account in order to prevent cars from running slow just to get a better score.
“These are still 200-mph cars. We clearly did not want to change racing. We didn’t want to make it boring and slow,” Glenn said. “We didn’t feel as if that would accomplish our goal, which is to get people to use more energy-efficient vehicles and to stimulate the development of more energy-efficient technologies.”
The American Le Mans Series is an excellent testing ground for new green racing technology, Glenn said. It is the only racing series in the world where all cars can race powered by alternative “street legal” fuels, such as cellulosic E85, E10, clean sulfur-free diesel, and gas-electric hybrids. Racers compete in four classifications including GT, which are modified street cars. “It’s a much more interesting event with broader technological applications,” Glenn said.
In addition to the American Le Mans Series, several other racing series have become more eco-friendly, allowing the use of ethanol and other renewable fuels. Still, much of racing today remains focused on entertaining fans rather than technological innovation, Glenn said.
“When I talk to people involved in racing, I tell them, ‘you’re coming to a crossroads. You can either be the poster boys for global warming, or you can be part of the solution. It all depends on you,’ ” Glenn said.
For related information, go to www.isa.org/environment.