Carbon at the Indianapolis 500 - EPA, MPG, CO2 - Cheap Offsets Get Lapped Despite Three-Letter Terms

It's almost hard not to think about Carbon Dioxide these days. Carbon and CO2 have become buzzwords synonymous with the green messaging more and more present in media and business. This past weekend, I was down in Indiana and had reason to think a bit about the Indianapolis 500. What follows are some of my musings, calculations, and thoughts about the emissions implications of the Indy 500. They are restricted to CO2 and do not include particulate emissions or consideration of other consumption represented by the weekend (i.e. what if every attendee had one hamburger and bought one t-shirt?)*

 One year of operating a vehicle at 32 MPG is roughly equivalent to the emissions of a one-way flight between the UK and NY


The figures here for planes come from Choose Climate, but  multiplied by 0.66 - in order to use a correction factor of 1.9, rather than the 2.7 used by this website. 
It is possible to calculate the amount of CO2 produced by a flight, very approximately, by using a fuel consumption figure of 4.8 L/100 km per passenger is a standard figure for the fuel efficiency of planes. About 3.2kg CO2 is emitted per litre of aviation kerosene. The CO2 produced is 4.8 x 3.2 x the distance flown, in kilometres - i.e. 0.154 kg CO2 per passenger kilometer. Multiply this by 1.9 to add the effect of radiative forcing. i.e. 0.2926 kg of CO2 per passenger kilometer. This produces figures a little lower than those of

Other calculators, such as Climate Care (a company that offers carbon offsets) come out with VERY much lower figures.

To translate GHG reductions into an equivalent number of cars off the road, annual emissions from a typical passenger vehicle should be equated to 5.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent or 1.5 metric tons of carbon equivalent.

A gallon of gasoline is assumed to produce 8.8 kilograms (or 19.4 pounds) of CO2. This number is calculated from values in the Code of Federal Regulations at 40 CFR 600.113-78, which EPA uses to calculate the fuel economy of vehicles, and relies on assumptions consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines.

In particular, 40 CFR 600.113-78 gives a carbon content value of 2,421 grams (g) of carbon per gallon of gasoline, which produces 8,877 g of CO2. (The carbon content is multiplied by the ratio of the molecular weight of CO2 to the molecular weight of carbon: 44/12).

This number is then multiplied by an oxidation factor of 0.99, which assumes that 1 percent of the carbon remains un-oxidized.[1.] This produces a value of 8,788 g or 8.8 kg (19.4 lbs) of CO2.


19.4 lbs CO2 per gallon times…

(500 miles/avg car fuel economy) times avg number of cars in field (33 start the race)

ASSUME: 2.0 MPG avg & 30 average cars (complete race)

Total Car miles = 15000 car miles requires 7500 gallons times 19.4 lbs per gallon

145,000 pounds CO2 ~ 72.5 tons

$290 per car at $4.00 per ton


BOTTOM LINE: It would be very, very inexpensive for the race to offset the emissions for all participating race cars: less than $10,000. Perhaps each sponsor should consider doing so.

The fuel mixture used in the race vehicles is high in ethanol. I understand that, considering the LCA of ethanol, the emissions are roughly comparable, since petrochemical inputs are required to yield and process the corn that is used to create this ethanol. Although the emissions take place more on the front end (pre-race), the net impact is similar.

Of more interest is the emissions generated by the 300,000+ attendees in their travel to the indianapolis 500. If the average distance travelled is 100 miles one way, even at 3 persons per vehicle with no air travel at average fuel economy of 25 MPG, which seems like an underestimate of the likely environmental impact all-around, the net emissions from travel alone are roughly  15,520,000 pounds or  7,760 tons. Still, the cost to offset this travel at $4 per ton is only $31,040, a burden of only $0.11 per person.

*From Issue 005 of Good Magazine, p.27, we learn that 300,000 hamburgers require 390,900,000 gallons of water and one t-shirt per person represents an additional  522,000,000 gallons of water. If we use the 3 people per car model, the water required to manufacture the 100,000 cars, presumably with 4 tires each, though this is also likely to be an underestimate (spares, dualies), is roughly 39,090,000,000 gallons. Using the most lenient guideline (3,125,001 L per pool), this can be translated to "enough water to fill 5003.5 olympic swimming pools". Wow.