Sustainable fuels – 'setting the example' at Revival 2023

08th September 2023
Ethan Jupp

The Goodwood Revival is a celebration of what once was, but this year and increasingly going forward, we’re very much looking at the future; our future and the future of how we continue to do what we love responsibly and how that relates to the future of mobility, both personal and professional. It’s also something we’ve been looking at for many years at the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard.


The Goodwood Revival is a celebration of what once was, but this year and increasingly going forward, we’re very much looking at the future; our future and the future of how we continue to do what we love responsibly and how that relates to the future of mobility, both personal and professional. It’s also something we’ve been looking at for many years at the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard.

What, you might be wondering, can a race meeting dedicated to cars from 1966 or before, possibly have to contribute in such a conversation? Pioneering sustainable fuels in historic motorsport and promoting a retain and repair mentality instead of the get rid and replace culture we’ve become all too content with.

To explain more, Revival 2023 featured this panel of representatives, coming together to discuss the issue. As an aside, we also found William Medcalfe on our travels around the paddocks, to discuss his experiences and views on running synthetic fuels in his Bentleys. 

Leading the panel is Anders Hildebrand of Anglo American Oil, whose CO2-reduced fuel is powering the Fordwater Trophy for 1965 Porsche 911s. Speaking of 911s, Porsche expert preparer Richard Tuthill joins, to add insight on how you integrate synthetic fuel with old cars. Lastly and absolutely not least, Emanuele Pirro. Yes a five-time Le Mans-winner but more importantly in this context, he’s a member of the FIA Historic Motorsport Commission.


Can older cars run on sustainable fuels?

Hildebrande opens by saying that motorsport is but a piece of the industrial pie when it comes to exploring sustainable fuels. “We deal with many special fuels across many industries, but our passion is racing,” he says.

“Problems with such fuels in older cars in the past have been that ethanol can dilute into oil and absorb moisture, damaging older engines. Our experience and knowledge in many areas means we can and have developed fuels that classics can use without major changes.”

“What makes a fuel sustainable is you make it from ethanol – sugarbeat, biowaste. We're not taking it out of the food supply or ecosystem.

“E fuels are next, like Zero Petroleum by Paddy Lowe. Made from hydrogen and CO2. It’s expensive now but it's coming down. We're in the phase of showing that you don't need crude oil. This is a first step, with many steps to go. The ultimate goal is fuel made from captured carbon."

The difference of course between sustainable fuels and synthetic fuels, is that a synthetic fuel is entirely captured carbon, while the FIA definition of sustainable implies a minimum synethetic fuel content in combination with traditional fuel. In other words, the 911s run a mix that reduces their emissions by a claimed 65 percent. The Bentleys, William Medcalfe claims, run at 'net zero carbon'.

“We prepared and are running ten cars in the Fordwater Trophy,” Richard Tuthill adds. “We’ve had no adverse effects. You actually get more power if you tune them properly. I’d love to tell you how hard it is, but it was wonderfully easy.”


Managing as he is a fleet of century-old cars that are running here at Goodwood on carbon neutral fuels, Medcalfe had a little bit to say on running an old car on new juice.

“Literally nothing goes into changing these cars to run on synthetic fuels,” he tells us.

“We’ve done all the testing, won races, run it on a rolling road. These cars are running net zero and it’s plug and play. It’s come from the atmosphere, so you’re carbon neutral.”


Revive and thrive – not just a fashion tagline

Sustainability does not just concern what comes out of a tailpipe, in spite of what many less-than-well-informed legislators have tried to tell us all. It’s about lifetime environmental impact, not just in terms of emissions or in use. There are so many questions that the blanket ‘EV’ solution does not answer and while it most certainly is  a great answer purely in terms of urban air quality, from cradle to grave, we need to do better.

That is where a car that has already been built leaps ahead. In buying – and indeed racing a used car, you are not commissioning the CO2-heavy production of a new car. You’re reusing, recycling, an old car. A future where we can then run that car on sustainable or CO2-neutral fuels, where we maintain what has already been built, rather than scrapping and replacing it, is a cleaner one.

That’s what the Revival represents. Some of these cars have been around for a century. One is the first Bentley to win Le Mans, that won 99 years ago. It’s still running, it’ll race again next year and it’ll do so… you guessed it, on sustainable fuels. Historic motorsport shows that we can and do keep cars alive. We can do more with less.


“We've gone from an industrial society to a throwaway society,” Hildebrand says. 

“Many of us have a new iPhone every year. We buy and replace and throw away because we can. We shouldn’t.

“You don't need to scrap already made vehicles. It's much easier to make clean fuel for cars that already exist than the penalty there currently is on production of EVs.”

“We can sort of say we're in the recycling business in historic motorsport,” Tuthill follows. “We’re in the business of keeping cars alive. Many of the cars here have been here longer than most of us.”

Medcalfe too emphasised in conversation with us, that many of the cars he’s looking after are quite literally 100 years old. Yet they’re still here, being used. Some modern cars by comparison, will be off the road within a decade of their being built. 

“The public have been fed this push to electric, but these cars have long-paid their carbon tax, unlike brand new EVs.”


Motorsport’s obligation to pioneer sustainable fuel

Pirro, clearly passionate about the subject but careful not to say the wrong thing, jumped in. “I absolutely agree. But the economical interests clash. I am an honest person. I can only see things happening if the whole world stops competing and works together. We were taught to be economical when we were younger. Rome wasn't built in a day, but we can do more.”

“I don't represent the FIA, these are my thoughts,” Pirro continues. “It’s a delicate topic. Emotions and facts can be far away. Reactions can be too big. I think we are in a very different world now, compared to if dieselgate hadn’t happened. If we were in a world where it hadn’t, we’d be in a different place. Maybe we reacted too much. 

“Motorsport has a mission, to show that internal combustion can still be a good thing. Car racing is bad in perceptions, we're in the spotlight. It's our responsibility to show sceptics there are ways, and sustainable fuels are one way. The impact is low regardless, but we still need to set examples.”

Medcalfe echoed these sentiments, saying “that is the future of all of this. For historic motorsport, sustainable fuel is the future. The WRC are on it, F1 is going that way. We’re here at Goodwood running 100-year-old cars on it.”


So what’s the role of Revival in the future of mobility? It’s an excercise in preservation and repair and a demonstration of the right mentality. It’s a test venue for future fuels. In its celebration of the past, it stays prescient of the future, if nothing else, for its own sake. With 20/20 hindsight, we can better our foresight. 

More to the point, it’s about remembering that our options are open. We can have our cake and eat it too. What we mustn’t do, is rush to scapegoat and rush a short-sighted, narrow-minded, ill-conceived catch-all solution that proves unfit for purpose with only a little reading between the lines. There’s still time to make the best of what we have; to adapt, recycle and reuse, rather than rush to replace.

Our idea of a perfect future is cities full of vehicles that produce zero tailpipe emissions, race tracks full of sonorous combustion vehicles running on fuels resulting in net-zero emissions and the minority population of enthusiast classic and road cars similarly preserved and sustained.

That’s still a sustainable future and one that’s a lot more pleasant and easy to achieve than the one of car enthusiast martyrdom and fast fashion-esque motoring that too many insist we continue to pursue. Your thoughts, as ever, are welcome in the comments. In short? We can all have what we want, within reason and, from legislators to individual ordinary citizens, we can most certainly all do better.

Photography by Pete Summers, Jordan Butters and Joe Harding.

  • sustainability

  • Synthetic Fuels

  • Emanuele Pirro

  • Revival 2023

  • Goodwood Revival

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