UPDATED: Rio Olympics: A missed opportunity for natural refrigerants?

By R744.com team, Aug 08, 2016, 17:00 3 minute reading

The 2016 Olympic Games, taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 5-21 August, appear to have missed the opportunity to opt for natural refrigerants for HVAC&R applications.

The sole supplier of air-conditioning for Rio 2016 venues will use R410A-based equipment.

R410A, a HFC with a GWP of 2,088, is currently being phased down in Europe, Australia and the US due to its potentially damaging contribution to global warming.

Data published by ASHRAE, meanwhile, reveals that the refrigerant used for HVAC&R applications in onsite equipment in five Rio venues (the three sports arenas, the Velodrome, and the International Broadcast Centre) is R410A too. The Central Hotel and the Handball Arena) use R134a, which has a GWP of 1,430.     

HFC phase-down of ‘equal importance’ to fighting terrorism

Speaking at Montreal Protocol talks on phasing down HFCs worldwide in Vienna a fortnight ago, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry compared the importance of tackling HFC emissions to the global fight against terror.

“I met in Washington with 45 nations – defence ministers and foreign ministers – as we were working together on the challenge of Daesh, ISIL, and terrorism. […] What we are doing here right now is of equal importance because it has the ability to literally save life on the planet itself,” Kerry told delegates.

Natural refrigerants have little to no GWP or ODP, and are an ideal alternative to HFCs in the context of the global phase-down currently underway. Indeed, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recently published a report demonstrating how natural refrigerants are already delivering climate-friendly refrigeration solutions worldwide.

Will there be natural refrigerants at the Games?

With the Rio Games appearing to have missed the opportunity to showcase environmentally sustainable air-conditioning solutions, R744.com contacted Games’ sponsors McDonald’s and the Coca-Cola Company, official food and beverage suppliers to the Olympic Village, about the use of natural refrigerants at the Olympics. Representatives of both firms were either unable or unavailable to comment.

The Coca-Cola Company does use natural refrigerants propane and CO2 in bottle coolers and vending machines. Indeed, it is a member of Refrigerants, Naturally! – an initiative of international companies taking action against global warming and ozone layer depletion by replacing harmful greenhouse gases in point-of-sales cooling and freezing units with climate-friendly natural refrigerants. 

At the ATMOsphere America conference in 2015, meanwhile, Roy Buchert, McDonald’s global energy director, outlined ambitious plans to adopt hydrocarbons. However with 80% of the company’s 35,000 restaurants operated by franchisees, he warned that they too would need to be persuaded of the merits of shifting to natural refrigerants for the strategy to be successful.

Speaking at the 2016 ATMO America, Antoine Azar, the Coca-Cola Company’s global programme director, revealed that the beverage giant is striving to be 100% HFC-free in new equipment purchases within two years (except for some speciality equipment), Currently new equipment is 65%-70% HFC-free.

Representatives of the Rio Olympic Games Organizing Committee, Refrigerants Naturally, the Environmental Investigation Agency and Greenpeace contacted for this article were all either unable or unavailable to comment.

Natural refrigerants have played role at previous Games

Ammonia21.com reported that 90% of the permanent cooling at the London Olympic site was HFC-free. The Energy Centre, featuring a Combined Cooling Heat and Power (CCHP) plant, included ammonia chillers. The chillers in the London Olympics’ aquatics centre also used ammonia.

The Canadian Winter Olympics used ammonia equipment at venues for ice-skating, hockey, bobsledding and various other winter sports.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) stands committed to promoting sustainability and outlined measures for the Rio Games in a Sustainability Management Plan published in 2013.

Serious environmental concerns

Last week, however, Reuters quoted Brazilian government officials as saying that the Rio Games would not deliver on environmental benefits promised to Rio citizens or competitors ahead of the competition.  

Projects were supposed to address poor water quality for swimmers and sailors at the Games and reduce the flow of garbage and raw sewage in locations adjacent to the Olympic Village and Park.

The Guardian also reported that the UN had concluded that water quality would be poor to very poor. Indeed, UK medical journal the Lancet warned Games participants that ingesting this bacteria-infested water could have detrimental health effects.

Brazil’s finance and spending regulator, the Federal Audit Court (TCU), is set to issue a report in the coming months on whether any of the environmental commitments were met in time for the Games.

A preliminary report published by the TCU last year concluded that the promises would not be fulfilled completely.

By R744.com team (@r744)

Aug 08, 2016, 17:00

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