How DHL delivers a low-carbon Formula E championship

How DHL delivers a low-carbon Formula E championship

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Formula E bills itself as a vision for more sustainable motoring, staging all-electric races for a new generation of consumers and promoting emerging low carbon technologies.

But in doing so, it is shipping 40 cars, 10 teams and stacks of other equipment around the world to meet a demanding nine-race calendar. How can that be low carbon?

The simple answer is that it probably can't be — or at least, not yet.

"Any activity will emit — we couldn't race if we didn't want to produce emissions," Formula E sustainability manager Julia Pallé admitted at an event at Donington Park earlier this year. "Our goal is to minimize our footprint as much as possible, first by being more efficient and then to offset any emissions we can't avoid."

This task of improving efficiency falls to DHL, Formula E's logistics partner, and specifically Pier Luigi Ferrari, deputy managing director of DHL's motorsport division. Since 2000, the aptly-named Ferrari has worked with racing championships including Formula 1 to move equipment from race to race on time and on budget. But until Formula E came into view, he did not have quite the same pressure to reduce carbon emissions.

Before the season started, DHL and Formula E worked out a calendar that would enable as much equipment as possible to be moved by sea or rail. Shipped equipment then would stay shipped — Ferrari says up to 90 percent of equipment is not intended to return back to HQ in the U.K., but move to races clustered in Asia and the Americas, before finally crossing by sea back to Europe. Meanwhile, separate battery packs are left in the U.K. for testing.

"We started planning with Formula E before the season to look for opportunities to reduce carbon emissions," Ferrari said. "To do that, one of the sacrifices Formula E and the teams have to accept is that the materials don't come back after some races. It's not only a question of cost, but also emissions."

For the first race in Beijing, there was even a plan to ship via recently opened rail routes across central Asia to China. However, complications over battery documentation and testing meant the teams ran out of time and a large amount of equipment was flown over, although this failed to put a damper on what was a thrilling curtain-raiser to the season.

DHL had further problems when the timing of the second race in Putrajaya, Malaysia, was pushed back from Oct. 18 to Nov. 22 after the country's prime minister was unable to attend on the original date. This left just 23 days to cross by sea from Putrajaya to the next venue, Punta Del Este in Uruguay, which Ferrari said has forced DHL back onto planes again — two 747s, to be precise.

Clearly, this is not great for Formula E's emissions profile, but Ferrari is equanimous about the route alterations, insisting there is "not a big change" to expected carbon dioxide output. "We are [meeting] the forecast in terms of what we expected," he says.

And Ferrari points out there must be some trade-off for Formula E, just as there is with DHL's similar day-to-day delivery service. The company has invested in a fleet of efficient aircraft, route optimization analysis software and clean technologies to meet a goal of reducing carbon emitted per delivery by 30 percent. According to Alistair Gates, vice president of sales programmes and leader of DHL's GoGreen initiative, DHL's use of green electricity across the group has risen from around 43 percent in early 2013 to more than 61 percent by August.

This article originally appeared at Business Green.

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