Mario Clouser's USAC Midget runs on ethanol. If he's successful more racers will likely fo
Editor's Note: On our recent visit to the 12 Hours of Sebring, we had the opportunity to sit down with the U.S. Department of Energy's Lee Slezak, Manager-Advanced Vehicle Systems Simulation & Evaluation Office of Freedom Car and Vehicle Technologies to talk about their Green Racing program. Last month gave you the gist of what the program was about. This month we go in depth at how this program could affect our segment of the motorsports world.
CT: How does the DOE view green racing could help oval track racing?
LS: Another aspect of the green angle is the finances, a lot of the technologies that can be brought into a circle-track series or the more grassroots-type series are actually technologies that, when implemented, can save the racers and the teams money. Instead of using a carbureted pushrod engine, switch to a fuel-injected engine running on E85. You can buy E85, especially in the Midwest and increasingly at more and more locations in other parts of the country, at a fraction of what you'd pay for high-octane racing gas or racing methanol.
Manufacturers years ago went from a carbureted engine to mechanical fuel injection, now it's electronic fuel injection and they didn't do it to be neat or to be the hot kids on the block. They did it to improve their fuel economy. And again, whether you're on a short circle track or running a 12-hour event on a road course like here at Sebring, you want to use the least amount of fuel.
Revolution Racing Engines' electronically fuel injected Midget motor is based on the produ
So by bringing an electronic fuel injection E85 package into the circle-track environment you've got the potential to dramatically reduce the amount of fuel teams are using to run their events and you can still do it just as fast as you did before, if not faster. Plus, you're producing fewer emissions, because you're using less fuel. For the racer, you're reducing the costs of operations. Everybody knows that one of the biggest expenses you have besides tires is the fuel that you're using race after race after race.
CT: So why grassroots racing?
LS: It's a great opportunity for education. With some of the larger series you've got huge events with tens of thousands of fans, in some cases over hundreds of thousands of fans attending these events. Yeah, they all watch the cars go around, but they don't all get the opportunity to see what's going on with the different vehicles up close. They don't necessarily have that close interaction with the drivers, with the crewmembers.
That's one of the things I love about going to these short-track events. Like going to a World of Outlaws event, or other Sprint events or Modifieds, the fans who are there are able to interact with the mechanics, with the crew, with the drivers. In a lot of cases, they know these people, they're people in their community. So, when those local racers are starting to adopt these technologies which are more efficient, which are greener, the people around them are going to be able to learn about it from them. They'll be able to say, "Why in the world did you start running that?" And they'll find out that, yeah, I can run just as fast, be cleaner, pay less money, and use less fuel by using these technologies. And by the way, I filled that race car up on the way to the track at that station down the street.
CT: So short-track racing could take the lead in teaching the public about fuel options and other technologies?
LS: Absolutely, it's an excellent education tool, because if this country is really going to address the energy security concerns that it has right now and stop sending money overseas you've got to start switching away from petroleum. Well over 50 percent of our petroleum comes from overseas. And that money is leaving our country every time we put a gallon of gas in our cars on the streets. So why not switch to a fuel that's actually produced here in the United States? Locally grown, locally used-the money stays here and it's cleaner and better for all of us.
At Attica Speedway in Ohio, racer Lee Jacobs signs an autograph for a fan, after he let th
CT: Is it safe to say that one of the goals of the Green Racing program is to promote a message of petroleum displacement?
LS: Ultimately that's what you want to get. You want biofuels, you want renewable cellulosic ethanol. You want biodiesels that are produced from cellulosic materials. There are so many potential crops and sources for these types of fuels. The feedstock could be scraps from forestry projects, it could be residue after the harvest of plants, there are multiple sources.
We have projects that took used vegetable oil from cooking fryers at fast food restaurants and turned it into diesel fuel that can be burned in a normal diesel engine without any modification.
At the Department of Energy we have a very large program working on biofuels, trying to come up with the best way to produce these fuels and then take those processes and implement them in commercial facilities in the U.S. I've seen projects that take used newspapers and other scrap paper products and turn it into E85. There are really an unlimited amount of feedstocks that can be turned into fuel in this country without pumping oil out of the ground.
The Hudson Hornet was arguably the epitome of the "Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday" attitude
CT: How far along is it? You mentioned earlier that gasoline has had 90-plus years to be developed as a fuel.
LS: Exactly, gasoline over the years, has obviously been refined. The chemical composition of gasoline has changed over the years to try and make it less environmentally damaging but the point with gasoline is it comes from petroleum which is pulled out of the ground. That's a limited resource and in some instances reports are saying that with the amount of petroleum reserves that exist in the world today we may only have 30 to 40 years of supply left. At the same time we have countries like India, China, and others where their increase in usage of petroleum fuels is huge. The best way to avoid any potential future scenario where we as a country wouldn't have the fuel that we need is to not need that fuel.
CT: Corn-based ethanol being an option?
LS: Ethanol from corn products has been around for decades, but right now it's more of a transitional fuel. If you can get the corn-based ethanol infrastructure in place as these new processes to use cellulosic materials and feedstocks come online, when those new processes are ready to be fed into the system you can drop off the corn-based products and one day totally get away from using any potential food product in ethanol production process.
CT: So, if the ultimate goal is cellulosic fuel how do we get there from here?
LS: We have multiple activities going on right now with different pilot plants that have been set up around the country. There are even several larger full-scale production facilities that are under way right now to produce ethanol from cellulosic materials. So it's just a matter of time. We don't have 90 years to develop this process. We need to do it quickly and we can develop the best process in the world, but if nobody wants to use the end product what good have we done?
So that's another reason for the green racing and another reason for the education-we have to show people that I can be fast, I can be green, and I can save money. Cellulosic fuels are a great opportunity to do that.
CT: What are some other vehicle technologies DOE is working on?
LS: Just in the vehicle technology group alone we've got a fuels group that's looking at the best way to utilize fuels, that's everything from natural gas to new diesel blends to hydrogen and of course ethanol fuels and different blend rates with gasoline.
We have a combustion group that's looking at ways to improve the efficiency of internal combustion engines, boosting diesels even further than they are now and making sure that changes are made so that they'd be 100 percent reliable, regardless of the feedstock of the diesel fuel going into that engine. They're also doing work on internal combustion hydrogen-fueled engines. There are many different activities going in that group.
Our own Circle Track project car runs on race gas-for now. Could cellulosic ethanol be in
We've got a materials group. Just like with a race car, one of the best ways to go farther, faster, and with less fuel is to reduce weight in that car. So, if you can pull out a component that's made of steel today and replace it with a new material that provides just as much strength if not more, better durability, better life, and do it for similar cost, you're going to save fuel because the vehicle has now lost weight.
We also have activities, large scale activities working on hybridization and electric drive. We're working on advanced battery chemistries. The batteries you see in the hybrid vehicles today such as Toyota Pruis, Ford Escape, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, and others are batteries that the DOE developed 10 years ago.
We've got work going on and had it going on for years in advanced lithium batteries. Now these are the batteries that you're going to start seeing later this year when Chevy brings out the Volt and Nissan comes out with the Leaf. The chemistry for the battery in that vehicle resulted from work that we've been doing.
More than 30 years after Teague took that picture, the epic battles between Chevy drivers
CT: So DOE is really working ahead of the curve so to speak?
LS: Yes, for example, even though those cars are not on the market yet, we're working on technologies to replace those batteries down the road to make batteries with a lower cost, lighter weight, more power, and more energy.
And then we're working with electric motors, controls, and power electronics-just about anything you would need to integrate advanced efficient technologies into a vehicle. We also do a lot of work with demonstrations.
We're working right now in eight different demonstration projects that will result in close to 20,000 electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle recharging sites around the country with over half of those being public access stations. And we're going to have in excess of 11,000 electric-drive vehicles, those being a mix of battery electrics and plug-in hybrids. When it's all in place in the next 16 months, it will be the largest demonstration of electric-drive vehicles ever in this country. We'll have more EV's on the road than there were back in the early 1900's when electric vehicles could be bought at Sears and Roebuck.
CT: Why is the DOE investigating so many different technologies?
LS: We don't want to force anybody to buy one technology. I would never want to go tell someone you have to buy that vehicle with that E85 engine in it, or you have to go buy that electric vehicle, or that plug-in hybrid. The point is depending on how people use their vehicles, different technologies will be more properly suited for them. So we want to make sure that all these options are available for the people so that they're not forced to compromise what they need and to compromise how they work, how they live just around a vehicle. They'll be able to go and choose something that doesn't rely on gasoline but relies on the technology of fuel that is actually produced here in the U.S., whether it's electricity from the grid, natural gas coming out of the wells in many locations around the country, or if it's an ethanol or a biodiesel that could be developed anywhere. For example, the algae that could be harvested down here in Florida is a huge source of potential fuel.
Sub assemblies direct from the factory sit under Project G.R.E.E.N.'s 2010 Camaro unibody
CT: From DOE's perspective, how do you think Project G.R.E.E.N. can help achieve their goals?
LS: A lot of it gets back to showing people what's really available and then showing them how well it will perform. With the Circle Track project, you're getting back into what some would probably consider the roots of stock car racing where you're actually using a stock car, using an engine technology that is available today that you can go into the showroom and buy on Monday after you saw it race on Saturday night. It makes racing more relevant and it brings our message home that you can be green without compromise. That you can still go out and you can still race, you can still drive all over the place, you can still use your vehicle the way you're used to and live your life the way you're used to, but do it without having a negative impact on the environment and a negative impact on our national security.
CT: Five years from now look back on this project. What do you see?
LS: Five years from now, I would have to say I would look back and say that was when the ball really started rolling. Because as I said earlier, if I went out and developed the greatest widget in the world and nobody understood it and nobody wanted it, all I'd be able to do is put that widget up on the shelf with a bunch of other widgets.
If I can develop an understanding amongst consumers and actually start to develop a demand for that technology amongst the consumers, five years from now instead of looking and seeing that dusty widget on the shelf, I see millions of widgets all over the place that people have taken into their lives and adopted and use every day and that's what I think we'll see five years from now with this project. It won't be everywhere around the country not every car out there will be using E85 fuel but you will have a huge increase in the demand for domestically produced fuel in this country and that's the cellulosic E85 and you'll have people using that fuel through the Midwest through the south, the northeast, hopefully coast to coast.