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20 October 2009

Veggie Lover's Delight

Chocolate is an energy source, sure, but automobile fuel, it isn’t. Until now. Using an eclectic mix of recycled materials and bio-waste, engineers at the University of Warwick have succeeded in creating what they call the ‘greenest racing car’. 

Chocolate and wine. Carrots, flax seed, soy beans and potatoes. Sounds like a grocery list? Well, it is indeed a list of sorts, just not what you would expect. Only Caractacus Potts could have dreamed up something so bizarre. Engineers from the University of Warwick seem to have taken lessons from the eccentric fictional inventor.

Part of a project designed to push green technology to its limits, the Warwick manufacturing group aims to show that going ‘green’ can be fun, even sexy. They believe it is the greenest car in the world, and that ‘green’ does not have to be synonymous with ‘boring’.

Using recycled materials, and with support from over 50 companies, the design team headed by Dr Kerry Kirwan has created a car for just £500,000. And not just any old car, but a racing car capable of taking on the world’s finest.

Unveiling his creation at the annual conference of the British Science Association, Dr Kirwan is confident that his innovative creation will not embarrass him. So confident, in fact, that he is entering his car in a Formula 3 championship race at the iconic Brands Hatch circuit in Kent.

While a poor performance by this car will only encourage those who think that motor racing and sustainability cannot work, Dr Kirwan remains optimistic. He hasn’t entered his baby in the race to come last.

The car’s chassis has been reclaimed from a scrapped vehicle. So also its 2 litre BMW diesel engine, which was severely re-engineered so as to run on bio fuel. Recycled carbon fibres from old aircraft panels and recycled soft drink bottles that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill make up most of the vehicle’s body.

Its steering wheel was manufactured by a company which uses carrot fibres, or cellulose nano-fibres, to give it its technical name, extracted from a carrot soup factory, with technology used to make fishing rods and other products. Curiously, the steering wheel is purple, instead of orange, which leads Dr Kirwan to speculate that beetroot fibres may have been added to the mix.

For safety reasons, the wheels, tyres, and the cockpit had to remain conventional, and conform to rigid Formula 3 specifications. So, sadly, wheels made from recycled potato starch and brake pads from cashew nut shells had to be discarded in the design lab. The racing seat though, was made from flax fibre and soy bean oil foam.

The car, officially named ‘WorldFirst’ is faster than many of its less environmentally friendly cousins, and is able reach 0-65mph in less than 2.5 seconds. ‘Flying Carrots’, as the car is called informally, has achieved speeds of 135mph, under test conditions. The design team hopes to rev it up to over 150mph by the time the race rolls around, a month from now.

Fuel efficient, as befits a ‘green’ vehicle, the car gives 35 miles to a gallon at race speeds. It has been engineered to run on any biodiesel, but so far, the team have been running it on fuel made from waste fat from a chocolate factory, and alcohol distilled from wine dregs. It is difficult to make a racing car that is ultimately sustainable, but Dr Kirwan thinks that this is a step in the right direction.

Formula 1 racing has long been hated by environmentalists for its polluting ways. This car may be the first step to show people that environmental awareness has its place in motor racing. And this is not all. Some of the technology used in the design of WorldFirst could be successfully transferred to make ordinary cars more sustainable. In fact, Dr Kirwan is in talks to build yachts using recycled carbon fibre. To him, the car was a nice way of packaging up research in a credible way. His team and he hope to show the industry how much is possible using sustainable technologies.

This article was first published on www.domain-b.com under the title Chocolate Soup for the Automobile Soul
© Anuradha Warrier and domain-b.com

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