Olympic rinks shine a light on powerful greenhouse gases | Science and technology


By CANDICE CHOI – Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — The rinks that host figure skating and speed skating competitions at the Beijing Olympics will also put a major environmental issue on the world stage — the potent greenhouse gases that often lurk in refrigerators, air conditioners and other cooling systems.

Four newly built ice rinks at the Games will use alternative carbon dioxide cooling systems with far less impact on global warming than the artificial refrigerants used in these devices, although other ice rinks will continue to use these refrigerants.

Organizers say, however, that the use of CO2 cooling in new rinks could draw attention to the use of artificial refrigerants globally, which is expected to become a growing problem as developing countries grow. enrich and use more and more cooling devices.

“Currently, people don’t have air conditioning. They don’t have refrigeration at the moment. But as the world develops, they understand that,” said Chuck Booten, principal engineer at the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

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The change at some Olympic venues comes as athletes fear global warming could be endangering winter sports and the increased need for artificial snow, the production of which requires enormous amounts of water and energy. To produce artificial snow for the Beijing Games, China has built huge irrigation systems that will use up to 800 Olympic swimming pools.

Along with the ice rinks, the use of CO2 cooling systems at some Beijing Games venues marks the latest chapter in the history of artificial refrigerants.

Under an international treaty in 1987, countries agreed to phase out an earlier generation of refrigerants due to their ozone-depleting properties. This eventually paved the way for the rise of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which don’t zap a hole in the atmosphere but can leak from discarded appliances and are considered a major contributor to global warming.

“We’ve traded one environmental disaster for another,” said Danielle Wright of the North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council, which advocates for alternative refrigerants.

Wright said regulatory and technical advances have largely addressed the risks once associated with refrigerants like ammonia and propane, which were popular before the rise of artificial refrigerants and have no impact on global warming.

Such alternatives may become more popular after the United States recently pledged to eliminate HFCs. The slowdown is expected to take years, however, and Booten noted the complexity of switching to alternatives, which could come with environmental trade-offs. Appliances that use alternative refrigerants, for example, could use more energy if they don’t cool as efficiently, he said.

In North America, many rinks already use ammonia for their cooling systems. But at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, the rinks were still using harmful refrigerants, said Xavier Becker, associate director of venues for the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC then pushed organizers in Beijing to commit to better options, he said, noting the potential for high-level rinks to lead by example. China has said it will push for popularize winter sports among its hundreds of millions of inhabitants.

“China’s refrigeration industry can be transformed,” Becker said.

Art Sutherland, a refrigeration consultant for the IOC, said officials in Beijing did not want to use ammonia for fear of toxic leaks. Instead, they opted for CO2 cooling, a relatively new option that has negligible climate impact compared to artificial refrigerants.

The CO2 systems will be used in four newly constructed rinks: the speed skating rink, the short track rink, the figure skating rink and the hockey practice rink. A team of students from Beijing Polytechnics College helped build the rinks and are expected to engineer for other news across China.

Other rinks will still use a new generation of HFCs that have reduced global warming potential. Sutherland noted that these were existing rinks, which made it difficult to install CO2 systems.

Christine Starr, senior policy analyst for the Environmental Investigation Agency, praised the use of CO2 cooling in Olympic ice rinks, but said “it would be even better if they could say that there , their sites were HFC-free”.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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