The Race For World-Changing Technology
Powered by biodiesel, the Mazda2 Bio concept is essentially a “laboratory on wheels,” exploring alternative energy sources to oil as Mazda looks to achieve carbon neutrality throughout the life cycle of its vehicles by 2050.
June 6, 2022, 4:29am. Dawn breaks over Fuji International Speedway where the Super Taikyu Series Fuji 24-hour endurance race, round 2 of the ENEOS Super Taikyu Series Powered by Hankook, is more than halfway through. The smell of cooking oil lingers in the air as people begin to prepare breakfast, unaware that in pit 27, the Mazda Spirit Racing team’s mechanics are using old cooking oil combined with microalgae fats to power the vehicle they’ve got on the track.
“Today’s event is not just a test of the drivers’ and team’s skill, it’s a test that could change the course of Mazda’s future.”
The Mazda is competing in the ST-Q class, which is exclusively for special, non-homologation vehicles. In other words, it’s a place for manufacturers to try out experimental cars. In the case of Mazda, its Zekken 55 Mazda2 Bio concept is fueled by 100 percent biodiesel, made from used cooking oil and microalgae fats. Today’s event is not just a test of the drivers’ and team’s skill, it’s a test that could change the course of Mazda’s future.
A quick driver change for the Zekken 55 Mazda2 Bio concept.
The fuel is a mixture of microalgae fats and cooking oil.
The ST-Q class is where manufacturers race experimental cars.
Although the world is shifting rapidly toward electric vehicles (EVs), a shift driven largely by the European Green Deal that set the objective for EU nations to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, there remain many questions regarding the pursuit of a purely electric automotive strategy. For example, is the electricity used to power these vehicles generated from eco-friendly sources? Are the source materials used in the manufacture of the batteries sustainable and environmentally friendly? And what about those nations where electricity is yet to be readily available to everyone?
All of these questions and more are being tackled head-on by Mazda. “We are delivering a multi-solution approach that offers various powertrains depending on each country’s or region’s policies,” says Akira Marumoto, President and CEO of Mazda Motor Corporation. So, while Mazda offers the MX‑30 EV in its lineup, and is constantly developing and improving its powertrains and technologies to be compatible within existing infrastructures worldwide, it’s also looking to alternative energy sources to petroleum.
“The engine developers who are part of Mazda’s racing team praised the high quality of the next-generation biodiesel fuel.”
The Mazda2 Bio concept trial is one strand of the company’s multi-solution approach. In 2018, Mazda was involved in Your Green Fuel, an automotive-academic-government consortium project in Hiroshima that saw it partner with Euglena, a Japanese company that’s set to mass produce next-generation biodiesel by operating a commercial plant from 2025.
Euglena’s next-generation SUSTEO biodiesel is made entirely from Japanese products and it is officially recognized as diesel fuel by Japanese Industrial Standards (JIS). SUSTEO consists of a combination of oil and fat in Euglena microalgae and used cooking oil. This is the key towards carbon neutrality—as “bio” in the name suggests, this diesel fuel is created using biomass such as plants and microalgae. As they absorb CO2 when growing, the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is neutral when you drive with this fuel. It is also unique in that, unlike conventional biofuels made from corn or other raw materials, it does not cause problems such as food competition or deforestation. Another advantage of next-generation biofuel is that it can be used for cars on the road today and utilize the existing infrastructure.
A commercial plant planned to mass-produce next-gen biodiesel in 2025. (Image courtesy of Euglena Co. Ltd.)
Microalgae is cultured in a factory and combined with cooking fat. (Image courtesy of Euglena Co. Ltd.)
The resulting biodiesel is used by the Mazda Spirit Racing team.
At the moment, the Mazda2 Bio concept is a “laboratory on wheels.” The company chose to trial the new fuel in this small-sized vehicle after it had notched up successes in the 2021 racing season with a standard Skyactiv diesel engine driven by a private team. For the 2023 season, however, Mazda is developing a new race car based on the Mazda3 that has a more powerful engine.
“It’s a bold venture, but one that is perfectly suited to Mazda, which has always had a challenger spirit.”
The engine developers who are part of Mazda’s racing team have praised the high quality of the next-generation biodiesel fuel, saying “It can work well with the existing Skyactiv‑D when it comes to things like adapting the fuel injection system.”
In fact, it might not be long before we see biodiesel Skyactiv‑D cars on the roads. It’s a bold venture, but one that is perfectly suited to Mazda, which has always had a challenger spirit.
Words Kenji Momota
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