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Formula 1: Riding The Sustainability Wave To Full Electrification

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Ferdinand Porsche once said, “The perfect race car crosses the finish line 1st and then crumbles into its individual parts.” What a take, right? Well, in the 90s, that’s the best they could hope for.

Let’s go back to the 1990s of Formula 1 (F1). The time was marked by extreme competition among racing teams. There was more freedom in the engine you could run, meaning that teams could choose between V-8, V-10, and V-12. During this time, you also had in-race refueling, meaning that drivers had more flexibility in how much fuel they could carry each race. Of course, you have to consider that fuel is heavy, which means lap times are higher when running those loads. Teams had to make that difficult choice to optimize tires, fuel, and engine performance. Believe it or not, Michael Schumacher won the 1995 season in a powerful Benetton chassis with an even more powerful V-10 engine.

As Formula 1 evolved, sustainability became a more significant part of the picture. The environmental push and government pressure meant that car companies could not justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars to participate in Formula 1 if the core engine had no use in road vehicles. Because of this, Formula 1 engine rules became more standardized, moving from V-12s to V-10s and eventually settling on V-8s. However, environmental pressure still existed, and so we finally reached our first wave of electrification. It was here that set the trend for what was to come in electrification and sustainability.

KERS and the first electrification wave

The first wave of electrification in Formula 1 came with the introduction of the KERS or kinetic energy recovery system. It was one of the first hybrid drivetrains introduced in a modern vehicle. Many of today’s concepts, such as regenerative braking, came from this system in Formula 1. The current system was essentially a seven-second battery boost that Formula 1 drivers had access to over a lap. The system was connected to the two wheels at the back, generating electricity when the drivers pressed the brakes. It meant less stress was put on the brakes.

Simply put, they could be made smaller. It also meant that braking technology could be improved dramatically with modern electronics. However, for many people looking for the ultimate sustainability, this still wasn’t enough, and there still needed to be more changes to Formula 1.

Full hybrid systems and more sustainability

Before the hybrid system, Formula 1 teams used the V-8 engines from either Mercedes, Renault, or Ferrari. However, only Ferrari had substantial use for V-8 engines. Mercedes was looking to go to smaller engines because that is what they had in their production vehicles. Renault was in the same seat, which meant they could not further justify putting more into their V-8 engine development. The teams decided that V-6 engines would be a perfect compromise between the V-8 or a four-cylinder hybrid system. This V-6 engine attracted Honda to the sport again, as they had some application for an engine of this size in their road vehicles.

The teams also wanted to play around with more complicated hybrid regeneration systems, which meant the introduction of the MGU-H and MGU-K instead of the traditional kinetic energy recovery system. The MGU-H takes waste heat from the exhaust and turns that into electricity that is stored in a battery pack. The MGU-K does the same but with braking energy stored in the battery pack like the previous kinetic energy recovery system. The main difference is that this system was expanded to give power for about 33 seconds instead of seven. This system is an excellent testbed for furthering our machines’ drive for more power density and sustainability. It even has an entirely electric spinoff to develop electrical powertrains further.

From Formula 1 to our road vehicles

Despite the challenges of electrification and sustainability, many of the technologies we use today in our road vehicles came from Formula 1. It is critical to see how Formula 1 solves these design challenges because these technologies will filter into future road cars.

Formula E and achieving full electrification

Formula E is the push towards electrification in auto racing. It uses a single chassis supplier with teams designing their drive controls. Battery capacity has a maximum limit, and it is up to the teams to work within those constraints. The central vision for Formula E is sustainability, as they understand the importance of tackling global issues like climate change while preserving the heart and soul of auto racing. Currently, the main aim of this sport is to optimize energy usage within the constraints laid out in the rules and regulations. That is because we have now hit a significant bottleneck in our drive towards electrification.

Batteries and the weak link

The bottleneck we’ve hit is our ability to store electrical energy in portable devices. Battery technologies depend on a chemistry that makes them insufficient for the needs of most users. While a battery is good enough for your average smartphone user, it is not good enough for someone who needs a vehicle that can drive 500 miles before being refueled in only a few minutes. Because of this reality, sustainability and electrification will only move at the speed our battery technology allows. Without this impressive battery technology, companies have difficulty meeting specific sustainability goals. However, one solution teams have found to improve things slightly is to work on the electronic control of electrical motors. Instead of trying to fit more batteries in a smaller package, these companies focus on using that battery energy as efficiently as possible.

Optimizing power usage is key

Optimizing power usage is the current key for everyone working on the push towards electrification. By focusing on complicated electronics and software algorithms, you can get better performance from the same hardware. However, stakeholders and users must utilize design software that enables them to reach those sustainability goals. This is where the push towards sustainability as a key driver in design software comes from.

How Cadence helps with electrification and sustainability

Cadence understands that the best electronics are the ones that optimize for power usage while being powerful enough for the end-user. That is why electrification and sustainability are major considerations when creating design software for companies. Cadence will continue to focus on sustainability when thinking about how its end-users will use its software. That means emphasizing efficiency and maximizing power density. Learn how tools from Cadence help companies reach sustainability goals today in our Corporate Social Responsibility Sustainability Report.

Steve Brown

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Steve Brown is a marketing communications director at Cadence.

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