Video Game Racing Simulator Drives Green

Argonne National Laboratory has been working with the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) since 2008, when the racing circuit turned to the scientists for help in developing a technical basis and scoring system for its then-new Green Challenge, where vehicles use alternatives to gasoline, like sulfur-free clean diesel, cellulosic ethanol and electric hybrid technologies. Now the geeks are helping bring the Green Challenge experience to fans, developing a race simulator that will be on site at ALMS races during the 2011 season.

A key feature of the simulator is its mirroring of hybrid powertrains in the way they use regenerative breaking, the mechanism that reduces speed by converting some of the vehicle’s kinetic energy into stored energy that the vehicle can use later. “As the racer applies the brakes, kinetic energy is stored and reused when the driver presses a button on the steering wheel to increase the race car’s acceleration until all of the energy is depleted,” Forrest Jehlik, an Argonne engineer, said in a piece on the ALMS site.

Green racing simulator, American Le Mans Series

image via American Le Mans Series

Jehlik said the simulator uses real race engine data to calculate the amount of petroleum fuel used – both cellulosic enthanol and race fuel. Green Challenge criteria are then applied to give the simulator driver a “green” score based on how much petroleum was saved using the hybrid system.

The underlying purpose of the system is said to be letting consumers get a chance to see how efficient technologies improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gases without impacting performance. Those wanting to try it out should visit the ALMS Paddock during the 2011 season to race this simulator.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.