Stock Car: the Impacts of Gasoline Combustion

The release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants into the environment

136 years ago with a different appearance from current models, one of the most notorious inventions made its debut in the streets of Mannheim, in Germany. With a shape similar to a carriage and with only three wheels in its structure, the first car equipped with four-stroke engines – still used in vehicles today – began roaming the streets at a speed of up to 10 mph. In addition to this unprecedented feat, the Patent-Motorwagen introduced another process commonly seen today: the combustion of gasoline and the release of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – and other pollutants – into the atmosphere.

Understanding the combustion process and the damage it creates

This procedure is essential to enabling the functionality of the engines in the vehicles, as it generates a chemical reaction between substances releasing the heat and light necessary for the car to function. However, during combustion, several highly toxic products are released in the exhausts, such as Carbon Monoxide (CO) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx). Not only are these byproducts dangerous to human health, they are also dangerous to our environment. 

These gases can cause difficulty breathing, headaches and, in severe cases, even death. They are also largely responsible for increasing the size of the holes in the ozone layer, contributing to the greenhouse effect and the warming of global temperatures.

To understand the terrible impacts of this method on a daily basis, an everyday gasoline-powered vehicle releases about 120 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer driven, with the amount varying according to the engine’s power. In São Paulo, for example, according to the inventory of vehicle emissions carried out by CETESB in 2018, vehicles alone dumped 299,000 tonnes of Carbon Monoxide (CO) in that year, 63,000 tonnes of Non-Methane Hydrocarbons (NMHC) , 165,000 tonnes of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and thousands of tonnes of other toxic pollutants.

The damage caused to the environment is not exclusive to traditional vehicles, but also reaches devastating levels in motorsports. Between high speeds, gear shifts and breaks for fueling and changing tires at the Pit Stop, Formula 1 cars release about 500 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) per race. According to data from the International Automobile Federation (FIA), F1 cars polluted more than 255,000 tonnes of CO2 at the end of the 2019 season.

Is there a way to neutralize?

According to research carried out by Marcelo Akira Kanno (UNICAMP) on the impacts of motorsports on the environment, 8500 mature trees would be needed to absorb the CO2 emissions of the Formula 1 season. In order to better understand the environmental damage generated by these vehicles, we can calculate the proportion of trees needed to neutralize their emissions.

As estimated by a Nature study, the number of trees in the world is about 3.04 trillion, with a margin of error of 5%. There are, therefore, around 422 trees for every human being. To combat emissions from the racing season, Formula 1 vehicles need 20 times the trees for one person to offset their emissions. 

In search of actions that neutralize their pollutant emissions, Stock Car adopted the practice of neutralizing Carbon Dioxide (CO2) by planting trees and plants. With the pioneering project that became known as the Zero Carbon Seal, the category planted more than 1,500 seedlings to compensate for the 45 tonnes of carbon dioxide released by the combustion of about 20 thousand liters of fuel from its vehicles during the race.

In addition to decarbonization through cultivation and care for green areas, the emergence of new technologies for vehicles allows for a reduction in the emission of pollutants. Unfortunately, the high purchase price and the cost of maintaining these systems in modern vehicles makes these technologies inaccessible to a high percentage of the population.

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