In last month's column we looked at the need for F1 not just to embrace environmental sustainability but also to promote, using its sheer persuasive power, the path to an ultra-low carbon economy. This month we'll dig deeper into how we may achieve this, but first we need to expand a little on fuel chemistry.
Many fuels are made of combinations of carbon and hydrogen atoms. One of the most simple comes from combining four hydrogen atoms with one of carbon to give CH4 - a gas known as methane. Ethanol, the most common automotive bio-fuel, is made by combining two carbon atoms, six hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom to give C2H5OH. Ethanol has the advantage of being easy to make and therefore cheap, but unfortunately it doesn't have the energy content of gasoline.
For every litre of conventional fuel burned we would need to burn 1.5 litres of ethanol to get the same energy. However, accepting that these hydrocarbon fuels can be made from atoms, we can also make the basis of gasoline, which is a substance known as iso-octane. This is made from eight carbon atoms and 18 hydrogen atoms - C8H18. This would then be what is known as a 'drop-in' fuel, meaning it could be used in an existing engine without requiring any modifications. It would still need some additives, but these would be the same as are currently added to conventional gasoline and has a further advantage of not having some of the undesired elements, such as sulphur, in it.