When you picture rural France it’s natural to think of tranquil villages, serene vineyards and an altogether more relaxing pace of life than we might be familiar with. You are perhaps less likely to imagine the sight and sound of 62 sportscars racing into the night at 200mph through the Loire countryside. Although indelibly woven into the fabric of French sporting identity, the brutal noise, fierce competition and sheer speed of the famous Le Mans 24 Hour endurance race is far removed from the idyllic image one might conjure up when dreaming of rural France. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and you’ll find there is a direct but unlikely connection between these seemingly polarised worlds. A connection that has it’s origins in the nearby vineyards.
When the tricolore recently waved to signify the start of the 100th anniversary running of the Le Mans 24 hours every car taking part was powered by a sustainable fuel made with the help of the local wine industry. This sustainable fuel is produced using wine residue biomass – a process which took 18 months of research to get off the ground – with the aim of reducing CO2 emissions by 65% over its lifecycle compared to fossil fuel equivalents.
The transformation from grape to high-octane, sustainable racing fuel begins shortly after the pressing process. Once the grapes have been pressed the solid remains are taken and converted into pure ethanol. After this, using a process called Alcohol-To-Gasoline (ATG), the ethanol is converted into hydrocarbons. This is achieved by removing the oxygen atom from the compound to obtain pure hydrocarbon fuel, which is then mixed and ready to use on race day.
A focus point of the sustainable fuel project for Le Mans was to use locally sourced raw material. With renowned wine regions on the doorstep such as the Loire Valley, the Rhone Valley and – a little further afield – Bordeaux, there was certainly no shortage of quality organic matter!