BASIS - The British Association for Sustainable Sport

Behind the scenes of Extreme E’s race for sustainable solutions

Standfirst: Now in its second season, Extreme E was founded with innovation and sustainability at the forefront, creating a purpose-driven sporting series to highlight the impact of climate change in some of the world’s most endangered environments, promote the adoption of electric vehicles to pave the way for a lower carbon future, and provide a world-first gender-equal motorsport platform.

The series visits race locations across the globe which have already been substantially impacted by human activity.  Bringing a low impact form of racing to these already threatened ecosystems generates awareness of climate change and its consequences, particularly to a motorsport-loving audience who might not have been exposed to learning about these issues.  One of several attempts to reduce the carbon footprint of the series is the decision to not have spectators at the races.  Not only does this cut out the energy and waste generated by transport, food and beverages, merchandising and accommodating fans, but it also means that all fans globally have equal access to remote broadcasts.  The innovative and low impact production methods used also limit on-site numbers, and result in exhilarating shots of the racing action thanks to frequent use of drone footage.

Racing without a trace, but leaving a clear message

 Extreme E also takes seriously the opportunity to be led by expert advice.  This is the role of the Scientific Committee, subject specialists who clearly appreciate having a platform where they are not ‘preaching to the choir’, but are instead able to educate wider audiences about climate change.  One of the most important factors is finding a way to share the very tangible consequences of data, which can often be overwhelming or inaccessible, “in a way that people can understand.”  By racing in already damaged ecosystems, Extreme E can directly demonstrate the consequences of climate change, for those of us who cannot (yet) see them first hand.

The decision to race in Dorset in December, due to Covid-based logistical issues, might seem to contradict this ethos.  However, Alejandro Agag, Extreme E Founder and CEO, highlighted how this “poignant shift” reflects the proximity of issues such as biodiversity loss to those of us in the UK: “the issues we talk about are literally happening in our backyards so it felt like the right time to bring the spotlight home.”  The Legacy Programme is one way of turning this awareness into action.  During the race week, the drivers visit and get involved in local projects, which have ranged from planting one million mangrove trees in Senegal with the NGO Oceanium, to working with the National Trust in Dorset and building a lodge for the reintroduction of beavers into the wetland habitat there.  These projects do not just finish once the race weekend is over, but represent long term investments on behalf of Extreme E – for example, the postponement of the planned Season 1 Amazon X Prix in Brazil has not stopped the series’ commitment to legacy projects in the region, such as working to support The Nature Conservancy’s Forest Restoration programme.

Showcasing innovative technologies

 There are numerous new technologies showcased by Extreme E, many of which are helping to drive forward research and development for products which can then be transferred to the consumer market.  For example, reusable drinks cups provided at the race track have been developed by Lyfecycle, a company with a mission to eradicate ‘fugitive plastic’ – plastic that has escaped into the natural environment.  The cups used at the race weekend in Dorset are the first ever fully biodegradable hot drinks cups which can decompose completely without leaving microplastics in the environment.  This may seem mundane, however it was estimated in 2017 that the coffee cups in UK landfill sites produce an annual carbon footprint equivalent to over 152,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, similar to what 33,300 cars produce in a year.[1]  In conjunction with the Count Us In Challenge, where fans can pledge various climate-friendly actions on behalf of their favourite team, Extreme E is able to reinforce the message that small changes can make a big difference.

Environmentally friendly solutions also help to streamline the logistics behind a global racing series.  The team garages, storage units, canteen, media centre, medical structures and the Command Centre are all formed from inflatable shelters created by Airshelta.  As a result, most of the race site can be packed up and shipped between race locations via the St Helena, the series’ floating paddock.  This retrofitted former Royal Mail ship makes a considerable contribution to the series’ green credentials – despite being emblazoned with the slogan “not electric… yet!” the use of ocean travel rather than flights to transport the vehicles and equipment needed for each race facilitates a 75% reduction in emissions.

Driving change and leading by example

 In addition to this, the racing action itself also puts several sustainable solutions centre stage.  The Odyssey 21 electric SUV, for instance, has an exterior shell made from natural flax fibres which enable a 75% reduction in carbon footprint during manufacturing processes. The vehicles are powered by a battery from Williams Advanced Engineering which stores enough energy to charge 2,600 mobile phones for a week.  These batteries are charged by AFC Energy’s bespoke H-PowerTM fuel cell system, which enables zero emission charging and uses green hydrogen as a fuel source.  Green hydrogen is created through electrolysis using renewable energy, such as from solar arrays.  This hydrogen is then used in a fuel cell to generate electricity for the race teams to use, with water as the only by-product which can then be easily used elsewhere on site.  It is hoped that this technology can be developed and applied for various cases of domestic use, as well as looking to improve the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles in grid constrained locations around the world.

Continental provides unique, ultra-high-performance tyres, designed to provide optimum performance across the range of conditions encountered during the season.  They also utilise ContiConnect, an innovative digital tyre-monitoring system, which collects, measures and analyses data such as tyre pressure and temperature in real time, transmitting information to the driver via a display in the cockpit and providing greater safety for car and driver.  Catarina Silva, product management team leader for Extreme E CrossContact tires at Continental, explained “we are really intensively developing material solutions and processes in the direction of environmental sustainability,” which includes taking tyres used by Extreme E and reusing them for the research and development phase of new technologies such as re-treading, as well as treating and recycling used tyres for their raw materials. “We have different approaches, they all come back to Continental so we have full control over what happens to them. The majority will be converted into a sustainable recycled solution which can be applied in social projects.”

It was incredible to learn about such a range of sustainable solutions and awareness-raising initiatives first hand at the Jurassic X Prix in December 2021.  It is clear that Extreme E recognises the importance of taking meaningful action on its mission to promote electrification, environmental protection and equality, setting a clear example for the wider sporting industry.

[1] Jamie Doward, ‘Why Britain’s 2.5 billion paper coffee cups are an eco disaster’, The Guardian, (Sun 26 Apr 2020) <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/26/why-britains-25-billion-paper-coffee-cups-are-an-eco-disaster>, [Accessed 16 January 2022].

Author: Sophie Clare, Cambridge University student and President of the Cambridge University Motorsport Fans Society.

 

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