The Future's Bright, The Future's Green
THE FUTURE'S BRIGHT, THE FUTURE'S GREEN
By Dr Kerry Kirwan, WMG. With thanks to Dr Steve Maggs, Dr Stuart Coles, Dr James Meredith and Ben Wood
Working in Sustainability, Dr Kerry Kirwan, explains, often elicits a set of responses from individuals which are not all positive. But Dr Kirwan and the Sustainable Materials Group at WMG have set out to destroy those common misconceptions by combining innovative materials and sustainable design with the world of Motorsport and F3 cars.
‘I work in sustainability’ – the four words that used to fill me with dread when introducing myself to new people. When you uttered these words, one (or more!) of three general responses would occur. The first was that you are obviously some sort of muesli-eating tree-hugger, the second that you are jumping on a PC band wagon or the third being you were out to stop everyone having fun.
With so much ‘greenwash’ abounding in the popular press and general finger-wagging by politicians and environmental groups, it is perhaps no surprise that much of the population risks being disenfranchised by the whole topic - as Kermit the Frog (and, more recently, one of my students) said ‘it isn’t easy being green’.
The Sustainable Materials Group within WMG set out to try and break the misconception that green equals boring. We wanted to demonstrate pragmatic technical solutions that were both effective and economic, and we wanted to engage the public, industry and the government in a positive manner.
So how did we do this? We decided to take research, not just from Warwick, but from around the globe, and put it into one of the most technically and socially demanding environments – the world of high-performance motorsport.
At first glance, the concept of green and motorsport appears to be a complete paradox – the motorsport industry is hardly where you would usually associate environmental consciousness, but there was method to our madness.
Motorsport contributes £5billion to the UK economy every year and the UK motorsport cluster is widely viewed as world leading. Against a backdrop of a declining automotive industry, UK motorsport is thriving with 4,000 companies and 25,000 skilled engineers innovating at a pace not seen elsewhere. However, it faces a serious threat from any future energy crisis and from global warming. Although it is acknowledged that the contribution to global warming and energy shortages from Motorsport is minimal compared to Industry and Automotive contributions, it is difficult to see the public having much sympathy with the sport if they cannot get enough fuel to drive to work. Without a supporting public, it is unlikely to generate the large sums of cash needed from sponsors to keep the top end of the sport alive in its current form. There is also a question over the relevance of motorsport as a breeding ground for transferable innovation. It has long been stated that high end motorsport trickles down its innovations into mainstream automotive and other industries. There are plenty of historical examples of this including things like the introduction of disc brakes to cars, but this is simply not true anymore. The competition is so intense and the speed of innovation so rapid that companies either have no intention of sharing their intellectual property or simply don't have the time to examine how to exploit its use elsewhere in the modern environment.
There was also the public impact potential from the motorsport industry, with a fan-base running into hundreds of millions of people worldwide, it is a great ‘vehicle’ (no pun intended) to disseminate research. However, this had the potential to be a double-edged sword – if we failed; we risked setting the idea of sustainable materials for any real-world usage back years, not to mention our own reputations and those of our partners.
The WorldF3rst Racing Car
The WFR F3 car is based on a Lola B05/30 Formula 3 chassis which won its first outing in F3 in 2005 at the hands of Danilo Dirani. It was decided early on in the project that we would only replace the non-safety critical parts with environmentally friendly alternatives. Hence the monocoque, nose box and rear crash structure all remained as standard. The engine in the WFR F3 is a two-litre turbo diesel chosen because of its inherent efficiency advantages over gasoline as well as the reduced noise levels, since this is an ongoing issue for many UK race tracks. The diesel engine allowed us to utilise biodiesel manufactured from a variety of waste streams which include vegetable oil and cocoa butter from waste chocolate.
In addition, the WFR F3 car has a number of environmental technologies applied to it which include a catalytic coating on the radiators that converts ozone to oxygen as air passes over it. The seat foam contains a soy bean rather than petroleum based foam. We also produced a pair of wing mirrors for the car using a manufacturing process originally designed for use in packaging materials. The Potatopak water-resistant starch packaging material from New Zealand is derived from the waste starch resulting from manufacture of potato chips. This liquid starch is dried and then foamed in a mould to produce the wing mirrors.
In addition to this a number of the bodywork components contain natural and recycled materials. The flax reinforced epoxy used to manufacture the bib on WFR F3 has mechanical properties which match glass fibre but with improved vibration absorption and reduced environmental footprint. Another of our partners, Aimplas in Valencia, Spain, successfully produced a front wing flap using a woven jute fabric combined with an epoxidised soy bean resin and the bargeboards on the car utilised three dimensionally (3D) weaving at the University of Ulster to produce a multiple-layer woven flax preform. One of the more popular features of the car is the steering wheel derived from carrots. The material used is called Curran and is used for high performance fishing rods.
Alongside the natural fibres, more sustainable resins were implemented in the manufacture of the sidepods. The resin used contained recycled PET sourced from drinks bottles and other plastic waste. The car also utilised recycled carbon fibre (rCF) for the damper hatch and engine cover, sourced from manufacturing waste – typically offcuts from aerospace, industrial use and formula 1, out-of-life prepreg rolls and end-of-life components.
Other technologies included the use of a recycled aluminium wiring loom (which gives a much better weight to conductivity ratio than copper) and the whole gearbox and engine was lubricated with vegetable oils, rather than their crude oil alternatives.
So having done all this work, the real acid test was whether it was competitive. Following the theme of high risk taking, we decided that a low key test was not for us. Instead we went for a somewhat public affair at Goodwood Festival of Speed with Adam Carroll, the then A1GP World Champion, driving her in front of 250,000 people. Thankfully it all paid off and she was indeed competitive, doing the hill climb in a similar time to Michael Schumacher’s old F1 car!
Now we have got her optimised through different drivers, tracks and conditions, we are proud to say that she does 0-60 in 2.5 seconds, has a top speed of 160mph and can do 18 mpg under racing conditions (compared to 8 for a normal petrol F3 car). The car and the team have picked up numerous awards and accolades for her (including being named in Time Magazine’s Top 50 Inventions of 2009 and headlining the MIT energy showcase), she has featured in countless TV, Radio and Newspaper articles across the globe.
Now, 2 years on from her initial outing, she is still in huge demand for TV programmes, magazines and industry events. Most importantly, she has shown that sustainable materials can hold their own in the real world, and given the ever increasing opportunities that we find ourselves becoming involved in, it is fair to say that the future’s bright, the future’s green!
Dr Kerry Kirwan has worked at the University for over ten years. He is an Associate Professor at WMG, Strategic Director of the new 10m Industrial Doctorate Centre and Deputy Head of the Materials and Manufacturing Theme Group within WMG. In addition to the sustainable racing car, he is also well know for his biodegradable 'Sunflower Phone' that allows mobile phone users to grow plants from their discarded mobile phone cases.
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Kirwan, Kerry (2002) Alternative glazing for automotive vehicles: executive summary. EngD thesis, University of Warwick.
Arjunan, Subramanian and Kirwan, Kerry and Pink, D. and Qaim, Matin (2010) GM crops and gender issues. Nature Biotechnology, Vol.28 (No.5). pp. 404-406. ISSN 1087-0156