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Waste Racers

November 20, 2014

Motorsports aren’t usually thought of as environmentally friendly, but a new fuel is being used to offset their carbon footprint.

MONROE, Wash. -- Race cars squeal around tight turns and disappear within a cloud of burning rubber at the Evergreen Speedway.

Motorsports aren’t usually thought of as environmentally friendly. But Matt Coffman, a 21-year-old professional Formula Drift racecar driver from Medford, Oregon, is breaking that stereotype.

Matt Coffman of Medford, Oregon started driving when he was 5 years old. Credit: Michael Werner

This year, Coffman Racing switched to a new fuel to offset their carbon footprint. Now Coffman’s car is running on fermented food waste. 

“People are just all around surprised to hear that we’re running a race car off of food-based product. That’s just unheard of,” Coffman says.

He says the fumes are less toxic for him to breath and there’s another unexpected benefit:

“The exhaust smells like berries.”

That’s because the fuel comes from a company in Cornelius, Oregon, that makes dried fruit. Drying fruit results in gallons and gallons of waste juice. The landfill wouldn’t take the juice and it was too expensive to send through the sewer so they kept storing it until they came up with a solution.

They began fermenting the waste juice and distilling it down into a pure alcohol or ethanol that they call Thunderbolt Fuel.

"We're hand-crafted, the microbrew of fuel,” says Mark Smith of Thunderbolt Fuels. “We’d like to do millions of gallons a year of waste-stream ethanol, and we’ll just keep working on it til we get it.”

Coffman Racing uses Thunderbolt, an ethanol made from fruit waste in Oregon. Credit: Katie Campbell



Made possible in part by

Katie Campbell

Katie Campbell was the senior managing editor for video at Cascade Public Media and a founding reporter of the public media reporting partnership EarthFix. She covered environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest for more than six years, earning numerous regional and national journalism awards including eight regional Emmy Awards for reporting, photography and editing, a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Innovation and the 2015 international Kavli Science Journalism Gold Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Katie currently works as a video journalist for the investigative journalism nonprofit organization ProPublica in New York City.

More stories by Katie Campbell