The UK is leading the electric and hybrid car revolution thanks to F1
Williams Advanced Engineering is also involved in the two-wheeled world. The company helped design the world’s first sodium-ion powered bicycle earlier this year.
Capable of the same charge capacity and longevity of lithium-ion cells, sodium-ion batteries – developed in partnership with Oxford University and Faradion – cost a fraction of the price. Although Williams wasn’t actively involved in the design of the revolutionary batteries, its management systems helped make the project a reality. “How to manage different cells of different characteristics, that was a process we developed in F1,” Cluett says of the bike.
Although F1 is now heavily focused on electrified drive trains, other motorsport expertise is helping the UK. The country has benefited from increased communication between industries, and this has led to the utilisation of motorsport technology in more places than ever.
“We’re now working on three defence programs, but for obvious reasons I can’t tell you what they are,” says Cluett. “Power density, particularly for the military carrying things around the world, is critical to them. They’re often flying things or putting things in nasty locations, so having power-dense batteries is extremely important.
“There are quite a lot of batteries used in personal cells, sort of personal power. A soldier may carry a battery back around on his back to power a radio and other things he carries – clearly anything you can do to reduce the weight of that or increase the power of that has a huge benefit for military personnel, so that may be something we’re talking about here.”
According to Cluett, F1 battery know-how can also be applied to cell technology in renewable energy – particularly with solar energy in warmer climates. Energy-storage systems can combat the peaks and troughs of renewable energy sources by effectively smoothing the output. By storing energy at peak times and releasing it when we need it most, they make renewable energy a far more viable option.
“In some locations, keeping those batteries cool is as important as in a vehicle,” explains Cluett. “Most lithium batteries operate best around the same temperature as people, so 20 to 25 degrees. Once you get to Middle Eastern temperatures, the batteries need quite a lot of cooling to operate in a way that gives them good life.”
Fostering the growth
While Motorsports Valley is leading the way, it’s also benefitting from surprisingly forward-thinking government legislation. “Government policy is obviously incredibly influential,” says Joe Greenwell, CEO of the Automotive Investment Organisation.
“It’s one thing to talk of wanting to maintain an advantage; in times of austerity, it’s quite another to fund £500 million to a specific initiative focused entirely on that area of activity in automotive. That’s what the coalition government did.”
The UK is already one of Europe’s top buyers in electric cars, and a leader in electric and hybrid technology. The fruits of 100 years of motorsport have now made it a leader in sustainable energy. “Motorsport is one of our great strengths, as is our innovation,” concludes Greenwell. “We are in the vanguard of this low-carbon agenda in the UK, and we jealously guard that position.” Let’s hope we stay there.