China displays low-carbon tech at the Winter Olympics

One of the ice rinks being used at the Beijing Winter Olympics. Photo credit: Beijing 2022.

By Anders Lorenzen

China is intent on using the Winter Olympics to showcase how they’re at the forefront of implementing low-carbon technologies and thereby tackling climate change.

China, which is hosting the Olympics, have said they are striving to run what they call a ‘green’ Olympics. They hope this will counter concerns around the lack of natural snows at its venues. Natural CO2 refrigeration at the ice rinks to 100% renewables-powered venues are just some of the technologies implemented.

Cooling ice rinks

For the first time at any Olympics, China is using CO2, collected from industrial waste gases, to cool ice rinks in its four ice sports venues. This is replacing the traditional hydrofluorocarbons which have been found to damage the ozone layer.

About the technology, Wu Xiaonan, an official at the National Speed Skating Oval said: “With the CO2 refrigeration process, we can save 20-30% on electricity compared to traditional ice-making methods.” 

The Games take place in 25 venues, 13 of which are newly built. They have deployed energy-saving technologies such as low-carbon building materials including recycled cement, and what they call smart snowmaking which uses 20% less water than traditional technologies. 

Fully powered by renewable energy

China also claims that all the venues will be fully powered by electricity from wind farms in the neighbouring Hebei province through a 666 km ultra-high voltage grid. In addition, more than 800 hydrogen-fuelled vehicles are being deployed. China is currently the world’s largest hydrogen producer with an annual capacity of 41 million tonnes and has been striving to make technology breakthroughs in storage and transporting energy. 

But there is no mention of whether the hydrogen used at the Games will be green hydrogen. In order for hydrogen to be classified as green, it has to be produced using renewable energy sources rather than the traditional way of producing hydrogen with natural gas.

However, criticism has mounted over how green China’s Winter Olympics really are due to pollution, water usage and the need for 100% artificial snowmaking, an Olympics first. Professor of Hydrology at the University of Strasbourg, Carmen de Jong explained that there has been a dangerous trend of moving the Winter Olympics towards dry countries with limited snow, thus requiring extensive and carbon-intensive infrastructure. She added: “Beijing is the worst of all candidates because it required so much more water.”

Sustainability efforts

The Beijing Winter Olympics Committee said in a pre-Games report in January that about 158,300 tonnes of emissions have been saved via the deployment of low-carbon energy and venues.

Total greenhouse gas emissions could reach 1.028 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent throughout the preparation and post-Beijing Games in 2016-2022, and about a third less than the 1.6 million tonnes emitted for South Korea’s Pyeongchang Games in 2018.

However, most of that reduction comes from the absence of overseas spectators at the Beijing Games due to China’s zero-COVID protocols. The lower number of international flights will mean 512,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions less than earlier projections, the committee said.

China is currently the world’s largest carbon polluter but has pledged they want to be a leader in tackling climate change with a net-zero target set for 2060. 

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