Volume III, Issue 3, Page 10


Corvette Racing ALMS Teleconference Transcript (abridged)

Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing program manager, and Johnny O'Connell, driver of the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R, participated in an American Le Mans Series media teleconference on March 26. They discussed the team's transition to E85 ethanol racing fuel.

Q: Is there any difference in performance using E85 ethanol fuel?

Fehan: When you're talking about performance, I assume you're talking about horsepower and torque. There is virtually no difference. Keep in mind that this is a mixture of ethanol and race gas. It's primarily cellulosic ethanol. Because ethanol on a volume basis contains a little less energy than the gasoline we're accustomed to running, when you look at a typical individual cylinder combustion process, you have to have more in there to develop the same pressure. The thing that does differ slightly is fuel mileage, but from a power and performance standpoint, it's virtually the same.

Q: Have the fuel cells been increased in size, and was there a rule change to accommodate that?

Fehan: They have been increased in size. There are a couple of areas here that need to be comprehended. The FIA has a general rule that they don’t want any race car carrying over 110 liters. What the American Le Mans Series has done is stayed below that 110 and looking at what I just talked about, the fuel efficiency difference, we're going to be allowed to run 105 liters and those that choose to run gasoline in our category I think are running 90 liters.

The cells stay the same; they have blocks in them, and you tailor the volume of the cell with the blocks. In other words, say an Aston Martin runs 90 liters, I'm guessing that the cell probably holds 100 liters of fuel, but they put a volumetric control block inside the fuel cell that limits it to 90 liters.

In the Corvette we actually run two cells. They're split tanks, or saddle tanks, and they're on either side of the car because they're in the actual production position. Then there is a crossover between them. We're working very hard to get to the 105 liter mark, I think we're up to 102 liters now. I don't know that we'll actually be able to carry 105, but that's what the rules will allow.

Q: Tell me about your supplier since cellulosic ethanol is not commercially available.

Fehan: It will, I think, shortly become more commercially available. The cellulosic approach only makes sense. As any new energy source gets developed, its composition, its manufacturing, its supply, all that changes and is always in flux. I want to preface any remarks I make here by making this clear: There is no one here who thinks that ethanol is the answer; ethanol is a part of the overall solution. That's why we chose to go in this direction.

Cellulosic ethanol doesn't take food out of the food chain. It's stuff off the forest floor. It can be orange rinds, essentially garbage. All the things that people look at in the cost or carbon footprint of a fuel, how much water is required in the production of it, how much water does it take to grow and irrigate and fertilize it, this is a huge science question that can be debated until the end of the world. The reality of it is that cellulosic, because it's made from scrap and garbage, is ultimately cheaper to produce. Cost plays a huge role in the use of ethanol because its energy content per volume is a little less.

We're very happy to have cellulosic ethanol. KL Design is the producer, and I think several other plants are coming on line shortly to produce cellulosic. In chemical composition, it's indistinguishable whether it's corn based or cellulosic based.