MotoGP is to follow in the footsteps of Formula 1 and switch to sustainable fuels.
From 2024, 40% of fuel used in the MotoGP class must be obtained from sustainable sources – either synthetically produced using sustainable energy or from non-food biomass – and from 2027, all fuel used in all three grand prix classes, Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP, will be of non-fossil origin.
The idea behind the switch is in part leveraging the function of racing as a research and development platform, and in part bowing to the inevitable.
As the world faces a global climate crisis, a switch away from extracting carbon stored underground and pumping it into the atmosphere is needed to manage CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
The role of racing is in making the combustion of non-fossil fuels more efficient. Engineers understand the combustion characteristics of fossil fuels very well, but synthetic, e-fuels, and biofuels burn and behave differently.
Motorsport is about converting the largest amount of energy stored in a fuel source into the lowest possible lap time, and combustion efficiency – converting fuel into horsepower – is a very important part of that.
The good news for race fans who love the noise that emerges as a byproduct of combustion is that this switch will mean that grand prix racing will remain the home of loud engines and paddock workers with permanent hearing damage.
Although MotoE will remain, and will expand in the future, motorbikes producing exhaust noise will continue to rule the paddock for the foreseeable future.
In this respect, 2027 is an important date. The current contract period with the MotoGP manufacturers runs from 2022 to 2026. The agreement with the factories is that technical regulations will remain stable for that period.
A new five-year contract period starts in 2027, which is when major changes to the MotoGP formula such as this can be introduced. That means that MotoGP will be racing combustion engines between 2027 and 2031.
The source of the fuels is still to be decided, beyond being non-fossil free. But the FIM and Dorna have laid on a caveat, and stated an objective.
Firstly, biofuels are not to be produced from food crops, as is the case with some ethanol, which is produced from sweetcorn or maize in many countries.
Instead, it is to be produced from with waste products of forestry and farming, or from crops grown on land that is otherwise not suitable for food production.
The second is that the stated objective is to use zero carbon fuels. That means fuels sourced using production methods that don’t emit carbon into the atmosphere, which also precludes some forms of farming or natural resource usage. Synthetic fuels must not be produced using energy sources that emit carbon.
The FIM and Dorna announcement stays way from involving the sport in the production of fuels, leaving that up to the fuel producers themselves.
Only zero carbon fuels will be permitted to be used in racing, and how fuel suppliers produce that fuel is up to them.
The announcement is a statement of intent, and so does not include any technical details. There is no news of whether the current fuel regulations, which strictly control the composition of fuels used, will be modified, and if so, how.
There are also no details on how or whether emissions standards, such as particle emissions, will be modified in the future.