Cars on the grid, Circuit de Catalunya, 2021

F1 overcame “reluctance” to introduce synthetic fuels by 2026 – Symonds

2022 F1 season

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Some Formula 1 fuel suppliers were initially reluctant to embrace the series’ planned switch to synthetic fuels, according to its technical director Pat Symonds.

F1’s next generation of power units, due for introduction in 2026, will run on synthetic fuels which are fully sustainable yet can be used in a standard internal combustion engine. This is part of its efforts to cut its carbon emissions to net zero by 2030.

Although the cars only generate 0.7% of the total emissions produced by F1, Symonds said addressing that is important for the image of a sport which is seen as “gas-guzzling”.

“We had to set some pretty hard targets because we are such a public sport and that’s a bit of a double-edged sword,” Symonds told Blackbook Motorsport. “I get quite upset when I see the words ‘gas guzzling’ right next to Formula 1, and you see it so often in the popular press, when the reality is we’re anything but.”

“Environmental sustainability is not just important to Formula 1, it’s important to everyone,” he added. “We’re not debating climate change anymore, that debate finished many years ago. The debate now is how to ensure that we are contributing to reducing climate change, contributing to technologies that will help our planet.”

However Symonds had to overcome some resistance to moving F1 away from conventional petrol.

“When I started this project, probably early or during 2018, I had a bit of a job on my hands trying to persuade some people that this was something that could be done and something that we had to do,” he said. “I would even say that with some of the oil companies, there was some reluctance.

“But what’s been really enlightening, what’s been really gratifying, is that over the time we’ve been talking about it people have come on board like I can’t believe.

“Now we’re seeing our sponsors, we’re seeing our partners, they want this sustainability story. It’s important to them. And it’s particularly gratifying that we’re seeing the oil companies on board with it as well. As you know, we have a global partner in Aramco [who] are being absolutely instrumental in this programme. That’s the largest oil company in the world who are putting really very considerable resources into a programme like Formula 1.”

Reaching F1’s net-zero target by 2030 will be “very tough”, Symonds admitted. But he believes the synthetic fuel route is the correct one for Formula 1 despite the growing popularity of electric road vehicles.

“I’m not totally convinced that electrification is the only answer,” he said. “It is a very, very important part of the answer, there’s no doubt about that, and I think it’s probably the ideal answer in an urban environment. But I think what we will be always pushing is that’s not the only answer.

“There are multiple parts to a low carbon future and we need to be fully engaged in what those parts are. It doesn’t matter what they are, we just need to be there, we need to be part of it.

“We will definitely increase our hybridisation. Our next formula will be maybe not exactly 50-50 internal combustion engine power and electrical power, but certainly not far off it. And by engaging in that sector of technology, we will push it forward.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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34 comments on “F1 overcame “reluctance” to introduce synthetic fuels by 2026 – Symonds”

  1. Maybe it helps if the trucks are using synthetic (or BIO) fuels. The F1 cars print is almost not noticeable but the rest (trucks/planes/lifts) could be worked on!

    1. I am sure it would help a great deal if they could get all the trucks, and especially all the planes to run on syntethic fuels (made from waste products? So that we don’t get the whole “rainforest cut down to make room for soy/corn growing” thing all over again) @macleod.

      But I think that for now they have their job cut out finding enough clean/renewable/sustainable sources and fine-tune the production to be as close to neutral as they want. So far it costs boatloads more, there is very limited supply of material so even supplying the whole grid for the racing/testing only at a reasonable cost would already be a feat worth marketing.

      Once they achieve that, they should indeed work hard with Mercedes, Renault, Iveco, MAN, and Scania (are both of those last two still VWAG owned?) to get all those trucks running on that same fuel. And start adding in more and more % to the fuel the planes use to ship everything around.
      Provided they can find a resource to make them from that is available and sustainable (quite far from real right now) with that amount of fuel use, they could have a semi-industrial proces, or at least it’s smaller scale variant running to start working on the cost/KWh engergy.

      1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
        7th January 2022, 12:16

        Synthetic fuels are a dead end, economically and ecologically. Many of the legacy car makers are just lying about its potential to make people hold off from committing to BEVs.

        Read this

        Electric trucks and Hydrogen aircraft is the way forward. A Tesla with a prototype battery recently did 750 miles on a single charge. The writing is on the wall for internal combustion powered wheeled vehicles both on the road and probably in motorsport (if it wants to be road relevant). It will happen quicker than you think.

        1. Look @sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk, I am happy to read your contribution, but it might surprise you that the article you linked did not actually tell me anything new, since I follow the news in this area (partly as part of my professional life) and am aware of the reality in this matter.

          Electric trucks (and busses, passenger trains etc) will be on the road and especially in distribution networks, end point delivery and short and later mid range distances it will almost certainly be the dominant way to go. For Planes it will also work for shorter flights (often where now turboprop planes are used). And trains, and part of the ships will also most likely come to eventually run on batteries.

          Hydrogen however is currently an even worse proposition than e-fuels, and will be until we both achieve somewhat more efficient production processes AND have an abundance of renewable energy to make it. But eventually we will most likely be able to do so.

          However, until then, a plane cannot run on much else as Kerosine. And there are huge stretches of railway where electrification is decades away from being viable, not even to mention the ships trawling our oceans currently using heavy oil. All of those can no doubt be solved over time.

          But if they manage to make synthetic fuels that offer a reasonable efficiency (certainly compared with fossil fuels and hydrogen) with a high energy density to carry over longer distances (compared to both battery-electric and hydrogen), that will power those things in the mean time (hopefully with added innovations like use of wind for ships, hybrid drivetrains to optimise efficiency etc.) as well as the millions over millions of current rolling stock that will not be replaced within the next 2-3 decades (even in the west, cars are 12-16 years old on average), we will all be far better off than if we focus ONLY on electrifying as many new vehicles as we can as soon as possible.

          1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
            7th January 2022, 15:30

            Very gracious of you to read my contribution :)

            I think we mostly agree. Yes Hydrogen for aircraft is a long way off, but I cant believe e-fuels will become mainstream for any application. Therefore I think allowing existing ICE cars to live out their lives, either with fossil or e fuel is ok, but new cars should be zero emission.

            You said:

            But if they manage to make synthetic fuels that offer a reasonable efficiency

            I don’t think this is a “if” I think its a “when” as far as reasonable efficiency is concerned. The problems will be cost, availability and will it reduce carbon emmisions? I think the main focus has to be on prod

            I love the innovative ways ships could use wind power in the future. That’s exciting.

            I wonder if F1 could fly less? Maybe in part the way Extreme E does?

          2. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
            7th January 2022, 15:50

            oops ignore truncated sentence

            I think the main focus has to be on prod

          3. Yes Hydrogen for aircraft is a long way off……

            I’m not going to (again) post actual numbers re hydrogen as an aircraft fuel, but briefly the energy density/volume is very low compared to liquid hydrocarbon fuels and would necessitate a very large tank. Gaseous hydrogen is not a possibility because of volume and pressure tank weight realities. The process for liquefying hydrogen is very energy intensive……

            Liquid hydrogen is cryogenic and also requires a pressure vessel for storage. Hydrogen is produced by a steam process stripping hydrogen from natural gas or by a very electrically expensive process or, as it used to be done, by a process using sulfuric or hydrochloric acid and iron or zinc. So, to produce your hydrogen fuel you need natural gas from wells, lots of electricity, or lots of acid; chose your poison….. Run some numbers; It just isn’t going to happen….

      2. Zeppelins are the most carbon-efficient intercontinental transportation of cargo, and also much faster than sea ships, which for F1 is really important. Combine it with a well set-up calendar so you’re not zipping around the world every weekend and it can be done, meanwhile greatly contributing to the public image of zeppelins.

  2. Thanks Keith and also to Pat Symonds.
    There are those who will agree with what is being done.
    There are those who will, probably, be in total disagreement.
    Meanwhile, I will keep quiet!

  3. On a related matter, I’ve wondered something: Yes, different motorsport form, but WRC, the highest rallying level, has already switched to 100% sustainable fuel for this year, so why not also in F1? This year is the 9th for F1 using hybrids, while only the 1st for WRC, so F1 should be equally ready for 100% sustainable fuel this year, just mentioning.

    1. The reason is probably exactly that reluctance Symonds mentions.

      I guess those new engines for WRC were developed with this in mind already @jerejj, so they got a bit of a “head start”. Do we know whether those WRC fuels are really sustainable, or are they the general biofuel mix in that we get a bit of for road cars too (I think it’s 6% now in the EU)?

      F1 is not using those bio fuels, but going for a synthetic fuel made from waste by a different process, so that is also a difference.

      1. @bascb The WRC engine is actually the same as recently, only fuel type has changed + electric power battery got added. The fuel is 100% sustainable based on info, although your alternative could also be an option. I’m slightly unsure.

        1. I just looked up what I could find about the subject @jerejj – this WRC statement mentions a “sustainable fuel” from a FIA sourced single partner:

          P1’s industry partners and in-house experts have worked to produce a fossil-free hydrocarbon-based fuel, with a blend of synthetic and bio-fuel components.

          The press release mentions a fuel that is a mix of 2nd gen Bio fuels, processed using renewable energy, and some part synthetic fuel (although it could be that this is a glidepath to include more and more of it).
          It could well be that this same consortium also helped the FIA to achieve the batch of 100% syntethic fuel they provided to the F1 manufacturers as input into the engine development last year.
          I think that as @johnrkh mentions, at least some of the oil companies involved in F1 will have been reluctant to go this way. And with F1 not planning a single source fuel partner (or are they?), these companies are key in making the change work.

        2. @jerejj and @bascb – whilst the headline might be “WRC switches to sustainable fuel”, there are some rather hefty caveats with that.

          Although the official WRC supplier is P1 Racing Fuels, P1 Racing Fuels have confirmed that there is also fairly heavy involvement from Saudi Aramco – and some would suggest that the reason for F1 overcoming their “reluctance” is more to do with Aramco’s generous financial offers to the sport than anything else.

          In terms of emissions, Saudi Aramco isn’t exactly great and, about a year ago, they faced accusations that they were engaging in some “selective accounting” when calculating their total emissions. Basically, the accusation was that they were ignoring their emissions from their overseas facilities, and also not counting any emissions from their joint ventures with other companies either.

          Initially, therefore, they were claiming that their emissions were in the order of 58 million tons of CO2 in 2019 – however, after Bloomberg investigated them and suggested Aramco could be understating their emissions by around 50%, Aramco subsequently revised that upwards to 71 million tons for 2019 and 67 million for 2020. However, even those figures are probably still an underestimate – they included some of Aramco’s overseas assets, but it seems they did not add their share of emissions from joint ventures with other companies, which could add on as much as another 28 million tons.

          Now, per barrel, they’re nowhere near as bad as some – ExxonMobil’s emissions per barrel are about three times higher – but it’s certainly dirtier than Aramco wants to admit to. With that in mind, although it is quite likely that Aramco will tout the use of renewable energy and the CO2 recapture element, I would say that their claims should be treated with scepticism given that their record in recent years suggests they have not been entirely honest about what their emissions really are from some of their downstream processing activities.

    2. @jerejj I’m guessing the the oil companies that sponsor F1 aren’t ready to make the change yet.

  4. I think marketing a message of “We’re reducing our truly disgustingly enormous transport emissions by 75% (or whatever) and this new, clean, sustainable fuel can immediately be used as a drop-in replacement throughout the entire global transport fleet, plus for all industrial, agricultural and personal uses” carries much more impact than “We’re reducing the 0.7% of our total carbon footprint which comes from the racing cars (the bit that’s on TV, and sells our products) by using a comically expensive fuel you can’t even buy.”
    But that’s just me, I guess. Actual, meaningful action beats virtue signalling every time, IMO.

    I guess in that sense it’s no different than the fuel they currently use, which we also can’t buy….
    Road cars designed and tuned to run on current F1 fuel would also be far more thermally efficient than they currently are – because, as always with this sustainable fuel debate – it’s not the engine that’s the problem. The thing is that they’re designed and tuned to run on cheap fuel, which is accessible to everyone.

    1. F1 has also been powered by comically expensive fuel no consumer can buy. The average liter of conventional fuel costs 200$£€.
      It’s called R&D testing.

      Its thanks to this our daily used fuel, has become more efficient.

    2. our truly disgustingly enormous transport emissions

      No matter what you do, hauling multiple chassis, engines and gearboxes, a couple of tonnes of computer equipment, and several dozen staff half way around the world and back every weekend will use massive amounts of energy, and there are few ways to do that (especially in the limited amount of time available) without burning fuel. Batteries are great for cars, and even lorries, but are not viable for very long distance haulage.

      Hopefully, the synthetic fuels developed will have a trickle-down effect, and those fuels will be able to be used as a short term replacement for fossil fuels until better alternatives become available. They are highly unlikely to ever be the best option, though, because making them is incredibly inefficient, just as is the case with hydrogen. But even if we manage reasonable efficiency creating acceptable synthetic fuels, we are still using insane amount of energy to move the circus around the world as we do.

      1. They could always take a lot less stuff with them….
        Damaging though it may be to F1 ideal image of opulence, excess and exorbitance…

        Do they really need 5 guys sitting at computers doing strategy calculations, or could they make do with 2?
        Do they really need 20 guys changing tyres in a pitstop, or could they do it with 6?
        Do they really need to fly so many extra parts around, each in individual packers, when they could just ship a complete assembled extra car?
        Do they really need to take their own cutlery, coffee machines and bar stools everywhere they go?

        I know why they do it, but that doesn’t make it necessary.
        If F1 were racing more than marketing, huge transport cuts could be made to actually support their environmental responsibility ‘goals.’

        1. @keith_collantine
          I nominate both of S’s comments as the comments of the day, comments of the week, comments of the month and two of the best comments of the year!

          You’re the boss, man! Dropping powerful truth 100%!
          Every single F1 event is an exercise in utter lavishness and vanity. You explained it perfectly.
          What I also find rubbish, is Symonds defending F1 going after the 0.7% instead of the actual problem that you so eloquently listed as because that’s what the TV and other traditional media may highlight. This is absolutely ridiculously dishonest apologetics. It’s 2022, F1 has millions of fans following their social media outlets and tonnes of their own media content that shapes people’s perceptions. Unlike 30 years ago, F1 has all the power to shape their public perception, and no TV station with their weekly sports report that few people watch can overpower the nuclear power of F1’s own media outlets that can deliver content on an hourly basis.

        2. That was supposed to be part of my point. If they really want to reduce their environmental impact, they need to reduce how much they are flying around the world. That could be by having less fly-away races or by a reduction in the size of the circus.

          TBH, though, I don’t see them doing either. They want to bring F1 to more countries around the world to increase the fanbase and, therefore, profits, and they also want to keep the prestige of having such a massive circus.

  5. Net zero: myth.
    “Sustainable fuel”: Even bigger myth (ever heard of the laws of thermodynamics?).
    “Emissions are causing global warming”: absolute nonsense.
    But hey, it’s the zeitgeist, so let’s all pretend that all this is true.

    1. “Emissions are causing global warming”: absolute nonsense.

      Let’s pretend this quote is not “absolute nonsense”, too….

      1. Because its not. Go and check your facts again mate. Natural environment produce 20 times more CO2 than all human activity on this planet.

        1. I have checked my facts over and over, and used to be on the other side of the debate. Increased emissions by humans are certainly increasing global average temperatures significantly. The evidence is there, and I’ve seen no reputable data to indicate otherwise.

          BTW you should know that even if your figures are true (20 times more), that doesn’t refute AGM. If a tap is running at 20gph into a sink, and that sink is maintaining its level by draining 20gph, I would cause the level to rise by pouring in an extra 1gph… When the sink overflowed, your argument is saying that it’s the tap which caused the kitchen to flood, not your extra, even though the sink would have happily sat there for ever and a day if you hadn’t done anything to it.

        2. “Natural environment produce 20 times more CO2”
          This means that human activity produces additional 5% percent of CO2, and you have to be very ignorant and naive to think that this is not a gigantic number!
          One can think of thousands of examples where 5% is the difference between life and death of a system.

          Replace a gear in your car’s gearbox with one that is 5% larger and see what happens.
          Increase your body temperature by 5% – i.e. from 36,6’C to 38,4’C – and see how you feel.
          Put on shoes that are 5% bigger (equal to ~3 sizes) than the ones you wear and go for a run.

          1. NeverElectric
            9th January 2022, 0:36

            It’s not a “gigantic number” and actually does not matter. The CO2 produced is used up by plants as food, effectively.
            There’s ample evidence that the earth has supported far higher temperatures before. There’s ample evidence that the earth goes through warming and cooling cycles that align with the Sun’s 11-year sunspot cycle, as well as with the multi-decadal trends of rising or declining solar activity. These have been studied and documented widely, particularly as part of the El Nino Southern Oscillation and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation phenomena.
            And so on.
            All this information is well-known and is easily available. The unfortunate ideological bent of scientists who use unverifiable and unfalsifiable “climate models” to fear-monger and scare everyone into adopting a discredited and unworkable political philosophy, with annual predictions of doom claiming that “there wont be any snow in Europe in winter from 2013” (false), “the north pole will be ice-free in summer by 2014” (false), “ski resorts will be out of business in Scotland by 2014 or so” (false), “coastal cities will be inundated by rising sea waters by 2020” (false), “we have just x years to fix climate change before catastrophe strikes” (said every year, with the “x” varying from 100 days to 50 years, depending on who’s talking, false) etc etc.
            Reducing pollution is always good. Faking or cherry-picking data to force a wholesale economic revolution on basis of what is clearly untrue is not.

  6. Gas guzzling image of the sport is something F1 failed to address itsself for the last 20 plus years.
    F1 has compensated emissions since 1997.
    And since the hybrid era the cars use 1 liter of fuel per 3 kms driven. About the same fuel consumption as the trucks that provide transportation for all our goods.

    In spite of the multibillion dollar industry, F1 often still has the amateuristic adhoc hobby philosophy of the 60s.

  7. I’ve talked about this a lot and people are interested and think it’s a good idea… But where is the mass manufacturing capability for these fuels? It’s one thing to supply 20 cars over 23 weekends, but if F1 really wants to use this as proof that it can be done on a mass scale to save the ICE, then a lot more work needs to be done in this direction and fast.

    Otherwise by the time they get there, the world will already be electric and there’ll be no ICE’s and petrol stations to save…

    1. Indeed @skipgamer. Building up the know how and tech to actually MAKE that fuel (so that it is 100% sustainable as far as both the material/components go, as well as the energy used) in significant amounts and at somewhat reasonable cost in itself is the challenge.

      Maybe that can be the first step towards more scaleable processes that will allow more of this fuel to be made in the future. That will most likely be a few years away.
      I do think that by then it will help a lot for planes, and possibly for all current diesel and oil ran vehicles like trains and ships (because it will take decades before all of those can run electric at large scale) as well as trucks in many places. And it could power the still existing vehicles, millions of running stock (remember, even regular cars average about 12-20 years in age).

  8. Some big advances in battery tech is expected in the next few years. So unfortunately the age of sustainable biofuels has passed In my opinion. Also there is the hydrogen development going on behind the scenes, bit of a holy grail but well worth pursuing I think.

  9. I think this is another example of how misguided FIA/F1 mgmt is toward solving their apparent problems.
    One can find in a few places that the fuel consumption for all 20 cars on the grid during the whole season is smaller than what a plane uses in a single transatlantic flight.
    Considering that every race demands at least one of those trip – and disregarding the privates jets for drivers, teams principals etc – the main culprit on F1 lack of sustentability does not come from the cars.
    Apparently, when F1 tends to look like they are solving a problem instead of solving the problem. It is almost like the ESG push is serve by “looking green”.

    1. I, personally, cannot make a massive difference to my own carbon footprint without radically changing my life. I use low energy appliances where I can, am conscious of energy use around the home, and use an efficient car.

      My largest use of energy, pre-pandemic, was travel. Even if I had moved to public transport, the only way I could reduce that significantly would be to travel less, but that would have involved quitting my job. That doesn’t mean, though, that I should give up on all my other energy saving initiatives. Using an LED lightbulb or turning the heating down a degree still makes a difference, and it can also encourage others to do the same.

      The same is pretty much true for F1: The only way to significantly reduce their environmental impact is to stop travelling so much. However, that goes against their requirement to be a global sport, so we need to accept that there will be a large amount of travel involved, and that will have a large, fairly fixed environmental impact. That doesn’t mean they should stop trying to reduce their impact elsewhere, especially when it comes to things which are likely to “trickle down” and have a larger impact outside the sport (synthetic fuels, battery and motor technology, etc).

  10. Our next formula will be maybe not exactly 50-50 internal combustion engine power and electrical power, but certainly not far off it.

    This is interesting; the first time I’ve read/heard from someone involved in the matter on the power distribution. Does anyone know the current engine formula’s power distribution? Given the limits on fuel flow I understand teams have been investing a lot in battery technology to improve (dis)charge rates.

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