Extreme E: How all-electric racing series combats the climate crisis through education, innovation and action

Extreme E: How all-electric racing series combats the climate crisis through education, innovation and action

Formula 1 technology can be found across the world, from it's overt innovation of hybrid cars, to more unlikely locations including 5G infrastructure and hospital communications.

The emergence of newer electric-only racing series, such as Formula E, have further propelled the advancement of electric batteries, feeding their soaring demand in the push to Net Zero.

Yet often this is a happy by-product of motorsport. Extreme E showcases what the sport can achieve when it puts the fight against climate change front and centre.

A major criticism of motorsport's sustainability credentials is its global travel, but if you take this away, you are removing a fundamental aspect of the sport.

Instead, routes and modes of transport can be adapted, and this travel used as an opportunity to educate on areas impacted by climate change.

For September's Island X Prix, Extreme E took the St Helena ship to South Sardinia, a region increasingly victim to severe heatwaves and wildfires.

"The education component of what they're doing here is so important because it's highlighting the problems, [and] highlighting what the solutions can be," said Veloce Racing's Molly Taylor.

"Not only the set-up of the paddock, how we can make it sustainable, but then also all the little things we do along the way and then in the legacy projects, the things that are happening in each region that we can then learn and pass onto our audience.

"Maybe [people] are not going to watch the National Geographic and watch a documentary about climate change and how they can help, but they might want to watch racing. And then also through that, also learn how they can be part of the solution.

"Once you know, it's very hard not to do something about it. So I think that that's really powerful."

Sport not only has the opportunity to inspire change through wider initiatives, but through the power of individual athletes' voices.

Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg all own teams in Extreme E - three Formula 1 world champions with huge platforms.

Rosberg X Racing have the opportunity to claim their second Extreme E title at this season's final races in Chile in December, with the team owner continuously leading discussions around how to further the competition's impact.

"It would be nice to have this balance between these very extreme locations like the next one in Chile, but at the same time, racing close to home," said Rosberg.

"Also close to home we have flooding, we have droughts even in the centre of Germany, so there's causes there that we can really highlight and support.

"I hope that Extreme E goes to the locations where we can help the most, it's very important for us to raise awareness."

The Extreme E Science Committee advises on all the series' climate initiatives, with Committee Chair and University of Oxford Professor Richard Washington witnessing first-hand the innovation necessary to reduce emissions in motorsport.

"Central to the DNA of motorsport is innovation, and we've got to innovate fast to solve the climate problem. We've lost a lot of time," said Prof Washington.

"Competition is natural to sports. [But] this is a race that we've all got to win together, and that's really what were the difference comes.

"It's interesting from a biological perspective, it's not really the survival of the fittest that secures evolution, it's the ability of a species to adapt. That's a common misconception.

"I see that adaptation happening under the ground that I'm standing on every time I visit Extreme E. It's a wonderfully fast environment, where decisions get made on partial information, because they have to be made, and that's exactly what we're going to do to [combat] climate change."

This ethos is evident in the fact that Extreme E is set to become Extreme H - the first hydrogen powered motorsport series.

Securing a sustainable future requires several clean sources of power, and with hydrogen technology in it's infancy, Extreme E, or H, is able to propel it's innovation.

"We know that hydrogen is going to play an important role in our economy in the future, potentially also in many forms of mobility and transportation. Therefore I think it's awesome that Extreme E is taking the taking the leap of faith and committing to that technology," said Rosberg.

"I can see it also from the amount of sponsors and even car manufacturers now that are writing to me. Suddenly new interest because they're like 'wow, hydrogen, yes, we want to be involved in that'."

Extreme E became the first event to use hydrogen fuel cells to charge the SUVs electric batteries in 2021, but getting this technology inside the cars is the big challenge.

"It's been interesting how immature the technology actually still is and how difficult it is," said Rosberg.

"Supporting as a championship to push forward this technology, because we have to make it work now in a racing car at high performance, and that's putting a lot of partners on the edge now to accelerate their progress technologically. So that's how motorsports can be really useful."

Extreme E's existence as a high-intensity racing series signals its approach to tackling the climate crisis - action.

It hopes to educate and innovate action among individuals, as well as setting an example for major sporting events.

"People are not going to stop their lives because climate change has emerged. Me standing up and pointing to rising global temperatures is not going to lock everyone at home for the day. So the world is going to continue, in a broad way, very similar to how it has," said Prof Washington.

"The way that we're going to make a difference is by doing pretty much everything slightly differently, and some things very, very differently.

"So Extreme E is new sport, but it's racing electric cars. We want people to drive electric cars because it's going to ultimately drive down CO2 which is absolutely central to the cause of the climate problem.

"So do where do we sit in that balance? Would it be better for us to stay at home and not have Extreme E? Absolutely not."

Increased sustainability can be achieved through big actions, like buying electric cars or transporting goods via boat, but also by small actions, like Extreme E's 'bring your own bowl' policy.

There are no single-use plastics on site, with all staff and drivers washing up after each of their meals.

"The changes that we need on the planet are huge, but it starts with everyone. We have to do something, [but] sometimes people don't know exactly what they can do," said Amazon Scientist Dr Francisco Oliveira.

"With the messages that we bring [through sport], maybe they can understand that very simple things like their daily basics can have an impact.

"When they buy their food, maybe they want to know where that food is coming from. Because maybe they're using a lot of air conditioning because the weather is getting hotter, because there is deforestation happening in another place, and the food that they are eating is coming from that area. So that's where you try to connect a person."

Extreme E has connected the messages of climate scientists with fans of off-road racing in an unlikely, yet trailblazing, alliance.

The change required to combat the climate crisis must be big and fast - much like an Extreme E SUV.

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