Race car fans might smell something different in the air at the next 24 Hours of Le Mans
in France next year. Mingling with the scent of burning rubber, high-octane fuel, and the French countryside, will be the smell of burning vegetable oil. The Lola B2K will make history when it competes in the world's most prestigious auto endurance race fueled by a biodiesel blend. D1 Oil
, a British biodiesel firm, is sponsoring the racecar to show the world that biodiesel can compete with the big boys in strength and stamina. The Lola prototype is being endowed with a ferocious Volkswagen Touareg engine, a V10 that will put the car past the 200 mph mark. Developers of the prototype are testing 5, 10, and 50 percent biodiesel blends from various vegetable feedstocks to determine highest performance.D1, the company sponsoring the car, is a biodiesel technology developer whose primary feedstock is jatropha curcas, a draught-resistant tree that produces an oil-rich nut. The use of jatropha over typical biodiesel source-crops is significant because of the plant's ability to grow on marginal lands and demand little water. This is in contrast to the soy beans so often used for biodiesel in the U.S, and the canola often used in Europe—both of which can compete with food crops for arable land. D1 is developing not only the refining technology, but the cultivation sites as well, setting up farms in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East to grow jatropha.
(testdriver, Harri Toivonen, left, and D1 Chairman, Karl Watkins, right) More pics here
In the 1971 film, Le Mans, Steve McQueen played the driver of a Porsche in the grueling 24-hour endurance race that threads through the French countryside at speeds exceeding 200 mph. Although the Lola B2K's top speed is below some of its competitors', its team hopes that higher fuel economy from its diesel engine, and fewer pit stops, will give it an edge. Using biodiesel may also give the team a good chance of winning the Automobile Club de France's Ecology Trophy, won at last year's race by Audi.
Phillip Wood, D1's CEO says, "We are entering a biodiesel car for Le Mans prototype racing because endurance events offer the best opportunity to test and improve the characteristics of this new green fuel. What we learn about how different biodiesel blends perform in our engine is going to be of immense value to biodiesel feedstock producers and refiners, to car and engine manufacturers and to motorists who want to know that biodiesel will get them the mileage and performance they need while contributing less to global warming." :: D1