Biomimicry in Formula One: Driving For a Greener Future

Adam PooleAnalyst INovember 8, 2008

What? I hear you cry!  Well, I first had this concept dumped on me by our community leader, Saraswathi Sirigina, a few weeks back, and refrained from writing anything until I had read into what Biomimcry actually was. I will now attempt to explain, not only what it is, but how F1 could use it to possibly make the sport a little "greener."

Some of you may remember an article I wrote with some eye-popping statistics relating to the fuel consumption in F1 cars as opposed to a standard family saloon.  As I mentioned in this article, I'm not a "naturalist" nor indeed am I a member of any "save the World" organisations. 

It is just that this sort of thing really does fascinate me.To put this simply, I have the same concept as British comedian Jimmy Carr when he explains, “I drive everywhere at twice the speed to get there quicker” and spend less time in a car.

So, what is biomimicry?

Simply put, it is using aspects of nature and designing products using a similar chemical buildup or design.  For example, engineers have found a way of keeping buildings cool, simply by studying how termites build their mounds.

The scientists, engineers, and product designers promoting this idea call themselves “bioneers,” and their growing field is dubbed “biomimicry,” which literally means, “to imitate life.” It is all about sustainability. Who said we have to completely reinvent the wheel when all it needs is a small adjustment to make it eco-friendly?

How do we implement this into F1?

Well, I have racked my brain over this matter for a while and have come up with a few ways biomimicry could be implemented into a sport that is widely renowned as the "most technical sport in the World." 

Hopefully, by the end of this article, you might have a few ideas of your own.  Please, don't get me wrong, some of the ideas in this article could be far too advanced to bring into the sport. I'm not a scientist, I'm just inquisitive.

F1 Tyres: What could we do?

Astonishingly, in the UK, over 48 million tyres were scrapped in 2004, and around a quarter of these were dumped in a landfill.  However, since July 2006, used whole or shredded tyres can no longer be sent to landfills across England and Wales.  As a result, more tyres will have to be recycled or reused.

Realistically, what are tyres used for in F1? Gripping the track.  Without grip, the car wouldn't move and certainly wouldn't be able to corner.  To implement Biomimicry into tyres is quite simple on paper.

All you have to do is think of an animal that can walk upside down or on vertical surfaces.  In this idea, I am going to use a spider: those creepy crawling things that most women scream at. 

The spider creates a web that is a very sticky substance, this allows the spider to catch its prey, but also allows it to travel around, from a high platform to a lower platform, for example.

To implement this into F1 tyres, scientists and tyre manufacturers would have to find the chemical make-up of the web and mass produce this product. Then they would find a way for it to be solidified and shaped. 

The only downside to this would be, there would have to be some sort of heat resistant substance added. Those of you, like me, who have ever set light to a spider's web will know, it burns quickly!

Now please don’t get me wrong. I am not stating that we should now start building tyres from spider webs. I am simply suggesting that if we could find the chemical make-up of the web, produce a durable product from it, we could add this into the mould when producing tyres thus reducing the amount of rubber used, resulting in a lesser impact on the environment.

Fuel: The big problem?

Now, I’m not about to start suggesting that we should run F1 cars on electric and use solar power to produce the electricity.

I’m going to try and find a “proper” way of dealing with the fuel problem, or attempt to just make the fuel that F1 use a little more eco-friendly.

Although there are some differences between ordinary fuel (gasoline) that we put in our own cars, and the fuel they use in F1, the basic make-up is exactly the same.

Formula One fuel can only contain compounds that are found in commercial gasoline, in contrast to alcohol-based fuels used in American open-wheel racing. Blends are tuned for maximum performance in given weather conditions or different circuits.

As for fuel in F1, what about using refined Vegetable oil? Vegetable oil can be used as feedstock for an oil refinery. There it can be transformed into fuel by hydro-cracking (which breaks big molecules into smaller ones using hydrogen) or hydrogenation (which adds hydrogen to molecules).

These methods can produce gasoline, diesel, and propane. Now obviously, the refining would have to be done in such a way that the density of the fuel remains to its current standards to allow performance to continue.

An alternative to Vegetable oil refinery is Ethanol fuel.  Ethanol fuel is ethanol (ethyl alcohol), the same type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages.

It can be used as a fuel, mainly as a bio-fuel alternative to gasoline, and is already widely used to power cars in Brazil. It is easy to manufacture and the product can be made from very common crops such as sugar cane and corn. This is a renewable resource.

Although these ideas would work in practice, it would take a lot of research and redesign to come up with something that would work as well as the current fuel used, but it would work. There is no doubt about that.

Braking: Is it a Problem?

Believe it or not, even braking in F1 damages the environment, from the heat created when in use, to the disposal of the carbon to carbon disks. I’m going to concentrate on the heat generated during breaking, which ultimately wears the disks down and results in new disks being used, thus resulting in the disposal of the brakes.

The Australian Western Red Kangaroo lives in the Western desert of Australia, one of the hottest places on earth. The way the “roo” keeps cool in the blazing heat is a simple, yet very effective method. When the Kangaroo gets too hot, it covers itself in its own saliva (spit) which allows it to keep cool, even at midday when the heat is at its peak.

To use this in F1, Scientists would have to find the chemical make-up of the saliva and integrate it into the carbon disks so that the disks could cool themselves down, thus reducing the heat and improving the lifetime of the disks. 

This would result in fewer disks having to be disposed of and would also reduce the amount having to be produced in fuel-consuming factories.

Again, this is not a tried and tested idea; it is simply an idea of using nature to inspire eco-friendly manufacture and usage of non-renewable products: biomimicry.

In conclusion

There are ways nature can assist us in cutting down on the amount of waste we produce and the amount of non-renewable energy that we use.  The above mentioned suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg and may not work.

However, something along the lines of the procedures above may work, and with people looking at new ways to “go green,” surely it is about time that something was done to reduce the overall effect that Formula One has on the planet.

F1 is an amazing sport to watch and if we all knew, in the back of our minds, that it was also eco-friendly, maybe we could enjoy the sport even more than we do already.

For the final time, I am going to say, I’m not a scientist, I don’t know if the ideas above would work, but hopefully, the article has got some of you thinking and if that is the case, then the article has been a success.

Hopefully, if I have written an article that is worth reading then I am a happy bunny.

Thoughts anyone?


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