Close

China Will Attempt First Carbon-Neutral Winter Olympics

A variety of climate-friendly strategies will be on show, along with the athletes

4 min read
A photo of the interior of a large ice skating rink, with three skaters in the foreground

The National Speed Skating Oval (known as “The Ice Ribbon”) in Beijing will host speed skaters during the upcoming games. Ice here is formed using climate-friendly refrigeration. The facility also boasts outside architectural glass that includes photovoltaic elements, allowing the structure to generate electricity during the day.

Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

About 160 kilometers northwest of Beijing, the city of Zhangjiakou with its rugged terrain boasts some of the richest wind and solar resources in China. Renewables account for nearly half of the city’s electricity output with less than a third of its full solar and wind potential of 70 gigawatts installed so far.

That makes it an ideal cohost with Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, which China plans to make the greenest yet. The plan is to power all 26 venues fully with renewables, marking a first in the games’ history.


The Beijing 2022 Organising Committee aims to make the games carbon neutral, or as close as possible—a benchmark for the International Olympic Committee’s mission to make the Olympics carbon positive by 2024.

Besides being a symbol for President Xi Jinping’s ambitious goal of China being carbon neutral by 2060, the 2022 games should drive sustainable development in the region. The event has already helped Beijing clean up its skies and environment, and has fired up local energy-technology markets. It will also be a global stage to showcase new energy-efficiency, alternate-transport, and refrigeration technologies.

The Olympics will account for only a small fraction of the country’s annual electricity consumption. Powering them with clean energy sources won’t be difficult given China’s plentiful renewable capacity, says Michael Davidson, an engineering-systems and global-policy expert at the University of California, San Diego.

But Davidson also points out that insufficient infrastructure to manage intermittent renewables and electricity-dispatch practices that don’t prioritize them mean that much of China’s green-power capacity is often not put to use. And because the game venues are connected to a grid that is powered by a variety of sources, asserting that all the electricity used at the games is 100 percent from clean energy sources is “complicated,” he says. Nonetheless, the games will be important in raising the profile of green energy. “The hope is that this process will put into place some institutions that could help leverage a much broader-scale move to green.”

The Games will offer a global stage to showcase new energy-efficiency, alternate-transport, and refrigeration technologies.

Case in point: The flexible DC grid put into place in Zhiangjiakou in 2020 will let 22.5 billion kilowatt-hours of wind and solar energy flow from Zhiangjiakou to Beijing every year. By the time the Paralympics end in March, the game venues are expected to have consumed about 400 million kWh of electricity. If all of it is indeed provided by renewables, that should reduce carbon emissions by 320,000 tonnes, according to sports outlet Inside the Games. After the athletes go home, the flexible DC grid will continue to clean up around 10 percent of the capital’s immense electricity consumption.

Green transport infrastructure being built to shuttle athletes and spectators between venues will also be part of the games’ lasting legacy. A clean energy–powered high-speed railway that takes 47 minutes to travel between Beijing and Zhangjiakou was inaugurated in 2019. More than 85 percent of public-transport vehicles at the Olympics will be powered by batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, or natural gas, according to state media.

In August, officials at the Chinese capital revealed a five-year hydrogen-energy plan, with goals to build 37 fueling stations and have about 3,000 fuel-cell vehicles on the road by 2023, for which the Olympics should also be a stepping-stone. Already, hydrogen fueling stations built by China’s petrochemical giant Sinopec, Pennsylvania-based Air Products, and French company Air Liquide have cropped up in Beijing, Zhiangjiakou, and the Yanqing competition zone located in between.

In Yanqing alone, 212 fuel-cell buses made by Beijing-based Beiqi Foton Motor Co. will shuttle spectators around. Even the iconic Olympic torch will burn hydrogen for its flame.

Even the iconic Olympic torch will burn hydrogen for its flame.

The 2022 event will also put a limelight on climate-friendly refrigeration. The immense 12,000-square-meter speed-skating oval in downtown Beijing—8 times the size of a hockey rink—will be the first in the world to use carbon dioxide for making ice.

“We’ve built skating rinks with carbon dioxide direct cooling but never a speed-skating oval,” says Wayne Dilk of Toronto-based refrigeration company CIMCO Refrigeration, which has built most of the National Hockey League arenas in North America and designed and provided consulting services for the Olympics’ icy venues.

Ice-rink technology typically relies on refrigerants siphoning heat away from brine circulated under the floors, Dilk explains. But CO2-based cooling systems, which are getting more popular mainly in Europe and North America for supermarkets, food-manufacturing plants, and ice rinks, use CO2 both as the refrigerant and for transporting heat away from under the floor where it is pumped in liquid form.

CO2 is a climate villain, of course, but conventional hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants are worse. The common R-22 form of Freon, for example, is about 1,800 times as potent as a greenhouse gas. CO2 cooling systems are also 30 percent more energy efficient than Freon, says Dilk. Plus, the CO2 system produces higher-temperature waste heat, which can be used for space heating and hot water. And while the system is more expensive to build because it runs at higher pressure, the temperature across the large surface stays within a range of only 0.5 °C, giving more uniform ice. Consistent temperature and ice quality generate better competitive racing times. The Beijing 2022 hockey arenas and sliding center for bobsled and luge use climate-friendly ammonia or Opteon as refrigerants. Besides being a key part of the greenest Winter Olympics, these state-of-the-art ice venues should seal the deal for another goal China has in 2022: to establish itself as a world-class winter sports and tourism destination.

This article appears in the January 2022 print issue as “China’s Green Winter Olympics .”

The Conversation (1)
Ben Wah 30 Dec, 2021
INDV

Hmm, everyone knows china has shut it's manufacturing down months early for them to get a "blue sky" olympic. Their attempt is all for show. Looking at the locale of their venue is kinda funny. https://www.nbcolympics.com/news/beijing-2022-winter-olympics-competition-venues

Legged Robots Learn to Hike Harsh Terrain

ANYmal demonstrates locomotion performance that’s slightly superhuman

5 min read
A bright orange four legged robotic dog stands on a grave patch at the top of a mountain with Swiss countryside in the background

Robots, like humans, generally use two different sensory modalities when interacting with the world. There’s exteroceptive perception (or exteroception), which comes from external sensing systems like lidar, cameras, and eyeballs. And then there’s proprioceptive perception (or proprioception), which is internal sensing, involving things like touch, and force sensing. Generally, we humans use both of these sensing modalities at once to move around, with exteroception helping us plan ahead and proprioception kicking in when things get tricky. You use proprioception in the dark, for example, where movement is still totally possible—you just do it slowly and carefully, relying on balance and feeling your way around.

For legged robots, exteroception is what enables them to do all the cool stuff—with really good external sensing and the time (and compute) to do some awesome motion planning, robots can move dynamically and fast. Legged robots are much less comfortable in the dark, however, or really under any circumstances where the exteroception they need either doesn’t come through (because a sensor is not functional for whatever reason) or just totally sucks because of robot-unfriendly things like reflective surfaces or thick undergrowth or whatever. This is a problem because the real world is frustratingly full of robot-unfriendly things.

The research that the Robotic Systems Lab at ETH Zürich has published in Science Robotics showcases a control system that allows a legged robot to evaluate how reliable the exteroceptive information that it’s getting is. When the data are good, the robot plans ahead and moves quickly. But when the data set seems to be incomplete, noisy, or misleading, the controller gracefully degrades to proprioceptive locomotion instead. This means that the robot keeps moving—maybe more slowly and carefully, but it keeps moving—and eventually, it’ll get to the point where it can rely on exteroceptive sensing again. It’s a technique that humans and animals use, and now robots can use it too, combining speed and efficiency with safety and reliability to handle almost any kind of challenging terrain.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less

A Transistor for Sound Points Toward Whole New Electronics

“Topological” acoustic transistor suggests circuits with dissipationless flow of electricity or light

3 min read
Model of a honeycomb lattice

Model of a honeycomb lattice that serves as the basis for a "transistor" of sound waves—whose design suggests new kinds of transistors of light and electricity, made from so-called topological materials. Electrons in a topological transistor, it is suspected, would flow without any resistance.

Hoffman Lab/Harvard SEAS

Potential future transistors that consume far less energy than current devices may rely on exotic materials called "topological insulators" in which electricity flows across only surfaces and edges, with virtually no dissipation of energy. In research that may help pave the way for such electronic topological transistors, scientists at Harvard have now invented and simulated the first acoustic topological transistors, which operate with sound waves instead of electrons.

Topology is the branch of mathematics that explores the nature of shapes independent of deformation. For instance, an object shaped like a doughnut can be deformed into the shape of a mug, so that the doughnut's hole becomes the hole in the cup's handle. However, the object couldn't lose the hole without changing into a fundamentally different shape.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less
Fix DFM hotspots in P&R with sign-off confidence
Fix DFM hotspots in P&R with sign-off confidence

This paper introduces the Aprisa low power solution and innovative low-power methodology to quickly converge on low-power-optimized power, performance, and area.