climate change

How Eco-Friendly Ice Rinks Are Kept Cold at the Winter Olympics

Climate-friendly ice is making history at the 2022 Winter Olympics

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

A big change has been set into motion at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. This year is the first time the Winter Olympics will use climate-friendly ice.

The National Speed Skating Oval, nicknamed the Ice Ribbon, is the only new venue that was built for the 2022 Winter Games. It was created with sustainable change in mind.

Xiaonan Wu is the director general of the national speed skating oval. His aim stretched around the concept of using climate-friendly ice.

Engineers knew they would have to utilize substances that are less harmful and more natural, therefore they implemented carbon dioxide technology, rather than hydrofluorocarbons, to keep the ice rinks cold.

Hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, are used to keep long stretches of ice, like the ones in arenas and skating rinks, cold for long periods of time. HFCs are human-made greenhouse gasses that absorb heat and are used to do things such as keep your refrigerator cold. But these refrigerants aren’t beneficial for the environment. In recent years, HFCs have been proven to cause ozone depletion. In fact, a single kilogram of an HFC is equal to running a car for six months. 

According to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, "HFCs are potent greenhouse gasses that can be hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) in contributing to climate change per unit of mass. A recent study concluded that replacing high-GWP HFCs with low-GWP alternatives could avoid 0.1°C of warming by 2050. Fast action under the Montreal Protocol could limit the growth of HFCs and avoid up to 0.5°C of warming by 2100."

Scientists have proven that HFCs cause depletion of the ozone and can create severe warming effects because of the potency. The ozone layer’s depletion is dangerous because its layers protect us from harmful UV rays. 

NBCLX’s Fernando Hurtado explains the sustainability concept in the video above. According to research from Natural Resources Canada, a clean energy research firm, these cooling systems are harmful to the earth because they are prone to leakage. Coolant leaks can be very damaging to the earth, just like an antifreeze leak in a vehicle can damage its engine.

“You’re better off leaking a harmless substance than leaking something that is harmful to the environment,” said Philippe Simard, a research engineer at Natural Resources Canada.

“Carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere anyway, so we catch the gas, contract it in bottles and then enter it into the refrigeration machine. “You have better ice quality, and you have better efficiency,” said Simard. “You consume less energy, and you emit less greenhouse gasses.”

The carbon dioxide runs through the pipes underneath the ice, creating a more uniform ice temperature.

These sustainable rinks are being used at four of the five ice sports arenas at the 2022 Winter Olympics, including the Capital Indoor Stadium where figure skaters perform. 

The climate-friendly choice does impact athletes on the ice. 

“There are a lot of different kinds of ice,” said American figure skater Vincent Zhou. “I think a lot of skaters like the ice to be a little softer.” 

“You can have hard ice and soft ice. Sometimes it depends on what the base layer is underneath the ice, also how cold or warm it is in the rink,” said Bell.

According to Precision Blade, figure skating ice is the softest of all Olympic ice surfaces

Director general Wu did promise Olympians athletes would be pleased with the ice. 

“For runners already skating on this ice, they feel the ice rink gave them something they never experienced before,” he said.

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