The world's first electric Grand Prix series will power its cars with electricity derived from algae as part of its promise to showcase the best in cutting edge zero emission technologies.
Formula E's sustainability manger Julia Pallé told BusinessGreen the championship organizers have signed a deal with U.K. startup Aquafuel to supply generators powered by glycerine, a byproduct of biodiesel that also can be produced from saltwater algae. The fuel is biodegradable, nontoxic and can be used in modified diesel generators to produce power.
"It's a very innovative compound," Pallé said at an event at Donington Park last week to unveil some new technologies used by Formula E. "It comes from algae so it's a first generation compound and it uses glycerine so it has no CO2 emissions, no smoke, no noise, no smell. It's something that isn't harmful at all. It's super-efficient and we're really happy to be working with [Aquafuel] on that."
Aquafuel chief executive Paul Day told BusinessGreen in 2011 that glycerine could power everything from generators to ships, calculating that a saltwater algal pond the size of Switzerland would meet global energy demand.
Algae is considered a better option for producing greener fuels than many other energy crops, as unlike those biofuel feedstocks grown on land, it does not compete with agricultural land. Algae-derived fuels are being trialled by the U.S. military, which sees it as a secure alternative to kerosene, and algal oil has also been used by Ecover to replace palm oil in selected products.
However, the technology is still in its infancy, which means the Formula E generators will have to be moved around the world to the nine cities hosting races. The season kicks off with the curtain raiser in Beijing on Sept. 13, taking in iconic locations such as Miami, Buenos Aires, Monte Carlo and Berlin before concluding in London's Battersea Park on June 27.
"We can't implement it in the country so we have to ship and transport it," Pallé said of the new algae-based generators. "But since we're starting from scratch the first year we have to deal with what we have and in future seasons we hope to be able to produce on site."
Formula E is designed to showcase electric cars to a new urban audience, with research by consultancy EY suggesting it will help drive 77 million additional electric vehicle sales over the next 25 years.
Organizers had hoped to have 10 teams compete in 10 "ePrix" in the first season, but planned events in Rio and Mexico City have fallen through.
Jaume Sallares, chief communications officer at Formula E, said that the championship would continue to look at options for a 10th race, possibly in key markets such as Japan, India or the Middle East. But he added organizers were "comfortable" launching the inaugural season with nine races.
"We still have some options to incorporate a 10th race in season one — if not we'll go for nine," he said. "There are a lot of cities in the pipeline that are interested."