Mid-Ohio American Le Mans Series: Innovative Fuels; or Getting the Right Fuel in the Right Tank
by Joanne Ivancic (Advanced Biofuels USA) The classic 2010 Mid-Ohio American Le Mans race was this year’s showcase of biofuel innovation with Dyson Racing winning the prototype class using isobiobutanol; and the E85-powered Risi Ferrari taking the checkered flag in the GT class.
Last year at Petit Le Mans, the Dyson Racing BP Mazda #16 car running on experimental bio-isobutanol gave its first extraordinary performance. Not only was this a new biofuel, it disproved beyond any doubt the general public’s tongue-wagging about inferiority of alcohol fuels and provided an example of the character and viability of an advanced biofuel, other than cellulosic ethanol.
Now bio-isobutanol is an official ALMS race fuel powering Dyson Racing’s #16 prototype Mazda Lola which, even with “level the playing field” compensations (carrying extra weight to compensate for the added power and mileage), finished first at Mid-Ohio in a hard-fought down-to-the-wire race.
Although the Dyson team shirts advertized BP Biofuels, that emphasis was taken off the car’s colors, which emphasized Castrol Oil instead. Is BP getting out of the bio-isobutanol business? Stay tuned. For now, Michael Smith of Dyson Racing says they have sponsorship from BP for the rest of the season.
Other teams have followed Corvette’s lead and use E85 ethanol. The Risi Ferrari team finally got their wish and started with the E85 fuel this season.
The Drayson Racing team, however, has taken a greater step toward sustainability, insisting on cellulosic ethanol for their E85 blend. Finding a supplier has not been easy as no cellulosic ethanol is yet available commercially. Iogen of Canada, a joint venture with Shell Oil, is providing this season’s fuel from their wheat straw-to-biofuel demonstration plant.
The use of sugar cane ethanol in the Indy cars (corn ethanol when they race in Iowa) helped enhance the conversation about the quality, power and performance of ethanol in general and its value to energy security, military strategic flexibility, rural economic development and climate change mitigation. The Drayson team wants their use of cellulosic ethanol to take the conversation to another level, to a discussion of advanced biofuels, that is, biofuels made from sustainably grown non-food feedstock, agriculture and food processing residues and waste.
So, with different ALMS teams using different fuels, who keeps everything straight? How can they be assured that the fuel in the tank is what they ordered? Is the alcohol in the tank the fuel that the engine wants to drink?
Except for Dyson Racing which has responsibility to transport and manage the BP-provided bio-isobutanol it uses, other racers rely on VP Racing Fuel’s Dean Bolton who brings 25 plus years of experience moving volatile fuels around the country to shepherding the variety of fuels used by American Le Mans Series racers. All the fuels are blended at VP Racing Fuel’s refinery in Texas and driven to the ALMS races.
IMSA E85R designates the standard E85 fuel used by ALMS. As Dean and others noted, “E85” means that the blend can include up to 85% ethanol. The blend produced specifically for the ALMS racers is closer to 60 – 65% ethanol with an octane of 96. It is “street legal” E85, and could be used in any flex fuel vehicle on the road today.
The IMSA E85 RC is the cellulosic ethanol used by Drayson Racing in their Lola.
Getting the fuel from the drums into the tank is another process altogether. As Rick Myer, Risi Competitione’s competition director explained, because cars using E85 put about 20% more fuel into the tanks to compensate for the lower energy density of the fuel compared to E10, the fueling hose is higher allowing a faster gravity-induced flow-rate.
From seed to wheel, ALMS brings relevance, as the Green Racing posters announce, “From the raceway to your driveway.” Tomorrow you will enjoy better biofuel blends and improved performance from engines modified or designed to get the most out of tomorrow’s biofuels due to the experiments and developments happening today at the ALMS races.