I’d say I’m a pretty untraditional racing driver from an untraditional background. It only makes sense then, that we’re doing some pretty unconventional things at Ellysium Racing, leveraging technology to make headway in an opaque and expensive sport.
One of the things my family is totally passionate and absolutely bullish about is blockchain technology and cryptocurrency. Recently, in the Sustainable Motorsport Roundup, the question came up of whether crypto & blockchain were ‘dirty’ tech and out of alignment with the sustainable strategies that series like F1 and Formula E are now committed to.
As an electric racing driver committed to sustainability, I’m here to explain how blockchain tech & crypto are sustainable, using our 2022 NFT Helmet Series as an example.
As a driver, your helmet is a big part of how you express your individuality, style, and yes, your sponsors. For two seasons I’ve driven with a plain white helmet, but in 2022, I’m finally getting some paint! Seeing my favorite drivers have different helmet designs for every race of the season is really exciting, especially tribute helmets (Senna!) or ones created for different causes. But buying multiple helmets and having them painted is something most drivers simply don’t have the time or money to do (prices for a single painted helmet are in the thousands) AND there is an impact to the environment for every helmet manufactured, shipped, and painted. So, for my 2022 race season, we decided we’d launch a series of helmet designs as NFTs.
Let me walk you through it.
- I have my real-life helmet design on my real-life helmet that will protect my real-life head during the season
- We’ve created 5 other unique helmet designs. These will be released as NFTs– one for each of the 5 ERA Championship race weekends
- Only a certain number of each design will be available
- Along with a (totally cool) video image of the helmet, holders of the NFTs will get other special ‘unlockables’– behind the scenes footage, an interview with the artist we worked with, and a wearable version of the helmet for the Metaverse
- For each NFT sold, the proceeds are split between our brand designer, the NFT artist, a sustainability organization and our team. Every time an NFT is resold, the same people get a new portion of the proceeds.
What the heck is an NFT anyway?
An NFT is basically any digital asset you offer your fans, clients, or customers as a way to engage with or support your brand. It can be a ticket for entry to a race, a collectible like a trading card, or even provide special access to experiences (like a track day or VIP hospitality) in the real and digital worlds. Each NFT is totally unique and cannot be duplicated.
How are NFTs related to blockchain & crypto?
NFTs are units of digital data stored on the blockchain and are essentially a digital contract that cannot be changed. Again, they can be anything from a digital ticket for an event to a cartoon jpeg of an Ape. The blockchain is an immutable, digital ledger where information is validated for accuracy by distributed and decentralized sources. Right now, the most popular blockchain for NFTs is Ethereum, but you can also use others like Polygon (our favorite) and Solana to ‘mint’, or create, NFTs. A lot of people are choosing ‘Layer 2’ chains like Polygon because they are already implementing more sustainable, lower energy consuming technologies.
What’s the difference between different blockchains?
Each cryptocurrency token has its own blockchain. Bitcoin is the OG and was introduced in 2009. It’s also the oldest, slowest, and least sustainable of them all. Ethereum is the next big player in the game, launched in 2015 and other chains like Polygon and Solana are newer kids on the block (pun totally intended).
Bitcoin’s technology uses something called Proof of Work to validate its transactions. This process requires an incredible amount of computing power and a huge network of simultaneous computers to be successful. This is what creates its significant environmental impact.
While Ethereum currently uses Proof of Work, it is about to make a ginormous leap to Proof of Stake (in July!). This major upgrade in how transactions are managed on the blockchain will reduce the energy impact of Ethereum (what other chains like Polygon & Solana are already doing) by 99%. Seriously. I’m not exaggerating. 99%.
Think of Proof of Work like an IBM Supercomputer in the 1970’s and Proof of Stake like a shiny new iPhone- faster, better, smarter, smaller. Less energy, less waste, more planet-friendly.
Why should I care about Blockchain?
Besides being able to offer digital goodies to your fans, blockchain is an important technology because it can be used to validate, authenticate and track pretty much anything. No one person, organization or institution controls it, so it’s not corruptible. It can apply to any industry– here are a few interesting examples related to sustainability & climate action:
- Brooklyn MicroGrid buy and sell solar energy to your neighbors
- Coorest is connecting the digital & physical worlds through their NFTrees, reducing double counting & claiming
- CarbonBlock measuring, tracking and authenticating carbon sequestration & offsets
- Circularise see how Porsche used their blockchain tech to track supply chain
- FlexiDAO helping companies track where their electricity comes from (also DAOs are a super cool, blockchain related thing– W Series has a DAO team this year.)
“It’s possible that one day, nearly everything we own will be accounted for on the blockchain,” OpenSea co-founder Devin Finzer said. Basically, anything you can think of that is an agreement or contract between two or more people, companies or governments can be stored on the blockchain. You can even get married there.
Oh, and the United Nations supports its use in climate action.
Okay, but is it sustainable?
All that being said, even reducing energy consumption by 99%, there’s still energy required for blockchain and crypto tech that has to come from somewhere, and carbon footprint is an essential piece of the puzzle. To give some context, it’s important to understand the carbon footprint of blockchain & crypto tech in comparison to other services we use and things we enjoy.
Here are some comparisons of yearly carbon footprint, based on available data from 2020/2021:
Just for reference, here’s the transaction impact on the Polygon Network:
Blockchain miners (Proof of Work) & validators (Proof of Stake) are always looking for the cheapest energy sources and most often use what would otherwise be wasted energy. We know that switching to clean and renewable energy is a bit more expensive right now and requires new infrastructure, but the long term payoff is enormous. Those making the switch are having a real and measurable impact on the climate, with wind and solar leading the way in cost and efficiency. People are getting super innovative about this– El Salvador is building a ‘Bitcoin City’ using volcanic energy, and at my favorite track in Germany we’re using the solar grid to charge our entire electric kart fleet for race weekends.
Every series, athlete or fan can easily point the finger at some ‘other guy’ whose footprint is bigger. But the goal of every big business and the racing series we love should be to push the technology and innovation to the edge, just like motorsport has always done. Reducing impact needs to remain the number one priority but judging blockchain and crypto as a ‘wasteful activity’ is undermining the real and powerful advantages that blockchain as a technology offers, whether it is in motorsport or any other industry. Blockchain (and cryptocurrency) will provide more reliability, transparency, equity, and access for everyone.
We used to have tobacco and alcohol sponsors in racing, and now we have tech companies. We used to race without safety harnesses and now drivers have halos and HANS devices. We used to only have combustion engines powered by fossil fuels, and now we’re seeing hybrid, electric, hydrogen and alternative fuels.
The solutions aren’t always perfect, but we are moving forward step by step, and at an ever-accelerating pace. We need to keep pushing to meet the goals of a sustainable planet without sacrificing our passions, whether that’s binging Netflix, paying for takeout, playing World of Warcraft or racing cars. Motorsport has always leveraged technology to be a leader in making impactful change. Sponsorship and collaborations with blockchain and crypto companies should only be expected and welcomed by teams, drivers, and fans as a way to a better future, together.
‘New technology is common. New thinking is rare.’
The technology required for a more sustainable future is inevitable. People’s willingness to learn about and embrace it now will accelerate it.
There is so much more to jump into on this topic, but I hope that this is a good beginning outline to some of the basics, the challenges, and the ways that blockchain and crypto ARE quickly moving toward more sustainable practices, just like many other businesses, organizations and individuals. Here is a link to a Google Doc crowdsourced by some of the smartest people in the space. It’s super easy to read and understand and covers all the basics.
Also, click here for my Sustainable Blockchain Source Guide for more information and context.
PS– We’ll also be launching a super limited edition NFT of our 2022 Livery for Earth Day in cooperation with Coorest, a really cool company using blockchain to measure and caption carbon emissions through their NFTrees (and their actual trees being planted in Spain next month!). Sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss a thing that’s happening at Ellysium Racing.