Monday 15 May 2023

Rally - The future is green?

Whether we like it or not, indeed whether we believe in it or not, the issue of ‘climate change’ is being factored into all future motor sport, so we either get with it, or find another sport.

Already event organisers and competitors are being asked to ‘offset’ their carbon emissions and there is a growing number of schemes which will happily take your money to ‘invest’ in environmental projects. Some of these schemes are more believable than others, but whether you agree with them or not, they are here to stay. Our national government and our sporting government say so.

I am no fan of electric motor sport. It is soul-less, although Formula E does produce some close racing at times. It’s the same with Extreme E, there are some good dices, but the silence is disturbing.

Anyway, it’s not for live public consumption, just the telly and social media. And they have a world wide audience of over 135 million at the last count.

Maybe that’s why there are so many critics and cynics, people who can’t or don’t want to see the bigger picture.

In this case the bigger picture is that Extreme E is a showcase for the technology and to prove that motor sport can clean up its act. Critics point to the use of a ship to transport the show to far flung locations, diesel lorries to carry it from dock to site and the use of diesel generators and other equipment on site. That’s simply because current infrastructure hasn’t caught up.

At no time has Extreme E ever claimed to be 100% carbon neutral but it is closer to it than any other form of motor sport, and that’s where we are vulnerable, particularly rallying. Protesters are becoming ever more active and militant, but at the moment they are concentrating on bigger headline grabbing stunts, although it wouldn’t take much to put a spoke in our wheel. Rallying is an easy target.

Having said that, Extreme E’s aim is to reach 100% self-sufficiency, and they are getting there. They are using Hydrogen generators, plus solar and wind power to create electricity. I was actually allowed inside the shipping container which houses the hydrogen fuel cell and had a good chat with the Chief Technical Officer. He also allowed me to take pictures. The unit also houses the UPS (uninterruptible power supply) and battery storage system whilst second life batteries are also used around the paddock.

Extreme E are therefore on course to achieve their aim but perhaps the bigger reason for this whole programme is the research and development side which we don’t see. They are using competition to push the battery and charging technology and of course the electric motors used in the cars. Hence the competitive race series. Give a development engineer an electric car to drive and he or she will carry out their tests and assess the results, but give these same machines to professional racing and rally drivers and the poor bluidy things will get thrashed to bits. That’s when the engineers and scientists come back to see what broke, what needs fixing and what could be improved. We all know that racing improves the breed and this technology will work its way through to the wider motoring public.

Looking even further ahead, Extreme E are amongst the first to say hydrogen is the way forward. The current electric cars are a means to an end as world and national governments have decreed this is the way forward. Unfortunately there aren’t enough natural resources in the world to build sufficient batteries to make this possible, hence the need for another fuel source. And since the various governments haven’t yet realised this, it’s up to the private sector, whether we like it not, to take the lead. Work is already underway on the hydrogen fuel cells which will be used in the cars next year. Once again these machines will be used to further advance and develop the technology of the future.

Amongst the invited guests at the weekend were politicians and leading industrialists who are being shown what is available and what is possible. That’s where the racing comes in. It’s not just a test bed it’s entertainment to help sell the message.

Extreme E won’t replace rallying but it should help us to protect the sport’s future as long as we can adapt. On the other hand, once the politicians realise the limitations of their electric-first, battery-only beliefs then the way could be re-opened for other fuels for our ICE (internal combustion engines) and here hydrogen can play a part along with other solutions like synthetic fuels. Both Formula E and Extreme E have an important part to play.

We either clean up our act, or shut the shop.

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