It’s official race fans: from the start of the 2011 NASCAR season that kicks off with the prestigious Daytona 500 in February, all racing cars competing within North America’s much-loved series will be required to run Sunoco Green E15. A special 15-percent ethanol blend, this unique biofuel is formulated from a combination of starches and/or sugars that burn cleaner but don’t necessarily push out quite as much power as regular gasoline.
It’s a brave, even controversial step for the bigwigs at NASCAR to pursue but perhaps one that could – through the rigorous research and development programmes that racing requires – definitely have an impact on the fuel we put into our own cars in the near future. After all, let’s not forget that most race-bred technologies eventually filter down into the machines you see rolling down the main street on a day-to-day basis. Smart or silly – what do you think?
Who says E15 burns cleaner than gasoline? Unfortunately, the issue has become partisan, with some claiming ethanol to be the wonderfuel that will Big Oil, while their opponents can say no good thing about it. But the fact remains: ethanol increases the vapor pressure of the gasoline it is mixed into, leading to more evaporative loss and emissions. There are also studies that claim ethanol does nothing good in terms of air pollution.
NASCAR is playing to its fan base, many of whom live in the famed Heartland of the US. You know, the place where “rugged individuals” are supported by agricultural subsidies paid for by tax money collected from those socialist weirdo liberals who live on the coasts.
Let’s hope South Africa does not follow America down this rabbit hole. We certainly can’t afford to turn valuable food into fuel (which even at $90/bbl, and climbing, is much less valuable). Let’s rather use those sugars and starches to keep some of our fellow countrymen alive!
And please note. the only thing that makes ethanol a unique biofuel is that fact that in the US it needs both a mandate and a generous subsidy to stay in business. So Americans pay taxes so they can have more expensive fuel. A unique biofuel indeed!
Strictly speaking Ethanol produces less carbon dioxide per litre than its gasoline equivalent. But, and here is the catch, you will need to burn more ethanol than gasoline to go the same distance. Be this as it may, I do think it’s big of NASCAR to try bring in some kind of “greening” into the sport. I don’t see any other motorsport bodies, besides Dyson Racing’s innovative isobutanol-powered Mazda sports car, making an effort.
Big of NASCAR, or just following the road of least resistance? Hard to tell. Never know in the Heartland where “rugged individuals” insist the evil Federal Government leave them alone, but just keep paying their Social Security, Medicare and Medicaide benefits. Nice job, if you can get it.
You do raise an interesting question: is it up to motorsport bodies (or anybody else) to promote green initiatives whenever they can? I guess it can’t hurt. Does it make a difference in the bigger picture? Not so sure.
FWIW, here’s how I see green fuels getting into common use:
1. Oil prices start a long term rise. Without high oil prices, biofuels are dead. Of course, the definition of “high” may change over time. Already $100/bbl does not seem as high as it used to. Whethwe the rise is due to terrorism, OPEC, declining output or any combination of these is irrelevant.
2. Oil companies (those pumping oil, as opposed to refiners) make a ton of profits. Whereas state oil companies (Saudi Aramco, etc.) sit pretty, big western oil companies (BP, Shell, Exxon, etc.) realise they have a problem: their oilfields are declining, future profits won’t be so great.
3. At some point the big western oil companies make the leap and invest in biofuels. And why not? They have the money, and can easily integrate biofuels in their existing operqations. I doubt they’d be investing in food-based ethanol, but I could be wrong.
So there you have it: biofiuels brought to you without much of a drastic shift in the market, by the same evil Big Oil that many like to vilify, driven by nothing other than a profit motive. Maybe the future is not so different from today…