Myths vs Truths: Sustainable classic and motorsport fuels

We take a look at some of the most common misunderstandings around sustainable fuels, in a bid to clear up some of the myths:

Myth: ICE engines are by their very nature ‘dirty’. 

Truth: The internal combustion engine (ICE) is often seen as the problem, however, from a climate change perspective, it’s the fossil fuels consumed that render the ICE harmful. Huge investment has been made in improving the ICE, making it more efficient and cleaner. And, with further development and a transition to sustainable fuels, CO2 emissions from ICEs can effectively become net-zero.

Myth: Sustainable fuel is no better for the environment than fossil fuels because it still releases CO2 at the tailpipe.

Truth: Firstly, the government’s own statistics show sustainable fuel could reduce emissions by up to 80% compared to fossil fuels. Sustainable fuels are sustainable because they effectively recycle the carbon. The carbon in a sustainable fuel contains is captured or absorbed from the atmosphere during the production process – for example, the agricultural products absorb CO2 whilst they grow. Once it is turned into fuel and burnt, that same carbon is then released back into the atmosphere. Fossil fuel, on the other hand, has held its carbon safe for millions of years. Burning it releases additional CO2 into the atmosphere that was not there before.

Secondly, this question (like many narratives and legislative frameworks in this area) puts the focus on tailpipe emissions. But, if we want to look at the actual environmental impact, we really need to look at the bigger picture. A vehicle’s (and a fuel’s) life cycle runs from its production to its disposal, and the various stages involved in this cycle can also include the creation of pollutants. If we want to weigh up what’s best for our planet, we need to explore the environmental impact of all these stages.

Myth: We should be putting all our efforts into solely converting classic cars to all electric/all hydrogen/all e-fuel vehicles. 

Truth: Converting classic vehicles is an expensive process to continue running the vehicles we all love. We’d always champion an approach which considers short term impact alongside the longer-term goal – and which doesn’t discount all alternative solutions in favour of just one. With sustainable fuel options ready to roll out, we have a solution for now.

According to ADBA, 1 tonne of CO2 saved today is equivalent to having to save 30 tonnes in 2050 so anything we can do now is much more powerful than a promise in the future.

Myth: There are no drop-in sustainable fuels currently available. 

Truth: Drop-in sustainable fuels are ready now for classic cars which would typically run on regular pump unleaded or super-unleaded petrol. No alterations would be needed to either the cars or the forecourts.

Second generation (advanced) biofuels that use biological waste as the feedstock, such as agricultural waste (e.g. straw) and forestry waste (e.g. wood pulp) can be used to generate biologically-derived mimics of current fossil fuels such as petrol and can be substituted or ‘dropped-in’ without any modifications to the engine.

Based on the research and development work of our industry to date, sustainable fuel is ready to hit the ground running using our existing infrastructure. Across the world, there are lots of great examples of sustainable fuel working well in action. However, it is true that we do not have enough of it. So, we now just need to invest in scaling things up.

Myth: Sustainable fuel would be too expensive to make it commercially viable. 

Truth: Deciding what’s commercially viable is a very subjective matter and the price of production would depend on multiple factors, including the method you use to create a sustainable fuel. However, the industry has already outlined various ways to be more efficient should we be able to scale up the production of sustainable fuels.

One method would be to use the existing refineries and economies put in place over the 160-year history of the oil industry. Many of the technologies we’re exploring in sustainable fuels, in theory, could be bolted-on or used in adapted refineries on a large-scale basis so that we could continue to make the essential chemicals we need for everyday life. If we could do this, it would go a long way to reducing costs of sustainable fuel production.

Another cost-effective route involves looking at the source (feedstock) of our sustainable fuels.

Biogenic waste is one of the materials we use to create sustainable crudes that go on to produce fuel. As long as the market allows, this can be a very cost-effective option to utilise.