Chocolate-Powered F3 Racer Takes Victory Lap for Innovation

Chocolate-Powered F3 Racer Takes Victory Lap for Innovation

With a steering wheel partly made with carrot pulp and an engine fueled by waste chocolate and vegetable oil, the WorldFirst Formula 3 race car made quite a splash when it was unveiled two years ago.

Since then, the car has garnered accolades and spawned research partnerships with universities, race teams and traditional car companies. Test laps revealed the car could drive wheel-to-wheel with its conventional Formula 3 counterparts. There is even a company working on commercializing that chocolate biodiesel.

All in all, the edible car said to reach 60 miles per hour in 2.5 seconds has caught the imagination of the public on both sides of the pond, ranging from students to motorsport enthusiasts. As recently as last week, the WorldFirst Formula 3 race car -- nicknamed Lola -- thrilled a crowd of 150,000 at an event in the U.K., according to Kerry Kirwan, who lead the team from the University of Warwick that designed and built the car.

"We were absolutely gobsmacked," Kirwan said of the response to the car. "I think none of us expected this to be the success it was."

Time Magazine named the car one of the Top Inventions of 2009. The same year, the British Science Association chose Kirwan for its Isambard Kingdom Brunel Award Lecture on how the team developed the WorldFirst Formula 3 car, which reportedly took nine months at a cost of £200,000. The car was exhibited at the fifth annual MIT Energy Conference last year.

The car has also showed promise on the track. In a phone interview this week, Kirwan described how the team took the car to the Brands Hatch racing circuit to compete in a much-anticipated race. A paperwork snafu derailed their plans but the car was able to run some practice laps, coming in 0.2 seconds behind the polesitter that day, or the car with the fastest qualifying speed. And that was with a full tank of biodeisel.

"I suspect we would have been pole if we were lighter and could have actually done it," Kirwan said.

Here is video of the vehicle:

 

More Projects on the Horizon

Despite running several hundred laps, the original environmentally friendly parts are still on the car, including a racing seat made from flax fiber and soybean oil, a steering wheel made from carrots and root vegetables, lubricants derived from plant oils, body work made with potatoes and a bib made of woven flax fiber.

"The only failure was a conventional carbon fiber 'off-the-shelf' front wing that cracked during testing," Kirwan wrote in an email.

The team only used environmentally friendly materials for parts that were not deemed critical for safety, but their durability gave Kirwan's team the confidence to test other car parts to see whether natural fibers or recycled materials could be used in the vehicle's crash structure or suspension components.

WorldFirst Formula 3"Early indications are that you can," Kirwan said.

In addition to companies looking at commercializing the waste chocolate fuel, Kirwan's team is collaborating on research with various race teams and companies.

Expect to hear some announcements over the summer, said Kirwan, who remained mum on partner identities and the specific details of the projects.

"I can't tell you who," Kirwan said. "But we hope to have a real part in a competitive race in the not too distant future."