While the athletes are no doubt front and centre as they compete for gold and glory at the 2022 Winter Olympics, another thing that’s getting a lot of attention, especially from eco-warriors, is Beijing’s sustainable and eco-friendly ice rinks.
For the first time in the history of the Olympics, Beijing is using the trans-critical CO2 direct cooling system in four of its ice sports competition and training venues, replacing traditional cooling systems that rely on ozone layer-damaging hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs – a move that’s effectively lowering the Games’ carbon footprint.
Developed by Peking University professor Zhang Xinrong, the new system uses naturally occurring carbon dioxide (CO2) gas as refrigerant to power a cooling system at twice the efficiency than the traditional method that uses man-made HFCs such as Freon.
In addition to its efficiency, the trans-critical CO2 system also boasts of its ability to maintain temperature consistency. Across a 12,000m2 ice surface, temperature difference is limited to 0.5°C – significantly lower than the 1.5°C required by the International Olympic Committee.
A Greener Winter Games
Sustainability is at the core of the system as it uses CO2 collected from industrial waste, and the tremendous amount of heat generated in the refrigeration process is used for space and water heating at the venues. By using this system, organisers hope to reduce carbon emissions equivalent of 3,900 cars (!!) per year, or the equivalent of planting 1.2 million trees.
Currently, four ice rinks at the Beijing Games use the CO2-based cooling system: the National Speed Skating Oval (the famed Ice Ribbon), Capital Indoor Stadium, Capital Short Track Speed Skating Hall, and the Wukesong Ice Hockey Training Hall. Three other venues still use HFC-based cooling system but use the less-polluting R449 refrigerant.
In addition to creating these eco-friendly ice rinks, Beijing 2022 has increased the sustainability cred of these Games in other ways. By becoming the first city to host both Summer and Winter Olympic games, the province has been able to reuse some of its iconic venues such as the “Bird’s Nest” and the Water Cube, retro-fitting them to host winter sports.
All Olympic Venues are also being supplied by 100% renewable energy, while transportation is being provided to athletes and officials in the form of electric, natural gas-powered or hydrogen-fuelled vehicles. Games organisers have also pledged to local authorities to develop over 80,000 hectares of forest and green areas in Beijing and Zhangjiakuo, to further offset their carbon emissions.
Looking to More Sustainable Sporting Future
These moves come as organisers aim to produce a carbon-neutral sporting event, which the International Olympic Committee (IOC) hopes will be the template for future editions of the quadrennial spectacle.
It’s important to note, however that this isn’t the first time organisers have worked towards achieving a carbon-neutral event. The Tokyo Games held in 2021 showcased their sustainability efforts at what they claim to be the “first-ever carbon-negative Olympics.”
In addition to using renewable energy to power their venues and low-emission vehicles for transport, they also featured novel ways to advance their eco-friendly message: podiums were made from recycled plastic, medals were minted with metals recovered from discarded mobile phones, and of course who could forget those cardboard beds?
London 2012 also put a premium on sustainability by using sustainably-sourced timber for the construction of the 6,000-seat Velodrome for the indoor track cycling events. The Copper Box multi-sport arena was constructed with recycled copper. It also claimed to be a “zero-waste” Games as all the waste generated during the London Games were diverted from landfills, with 62% being reused, recycled, or composted.
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