Tokyo’s hydrogen economy pitches Olympic Games as most sustainable

Clara Nwachukwu with Agency reports

The Tokyo Olympics 2021, though pushed back for a year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, is designed to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy for the electricity used to power the Games, via procurement from renewable energy sources and the use of a tradable green certification system.

Japan maintains the tradition and reputation, as a world leader in sustainable technology and a partner to countries around the world aiming to end poverty, achieve high levels of well-being, and ensure human security.

As tennis star player, Naomi Osaka, lit the Olympic cauldron, to mark the official opening of the Games yesterday (Friday), there came on a flood of lights throughout the Japan National Stadium, powered by hydrogen.   

To start with, the Tokyo Olympic Games for the first time in history of the world’s biggest sporting event, the stadium was almost empty during the ceremony, hosting fewer officials than usual, and athletes are all donning face masks

But these are not the only significant features; for instance, the Olympic torch is made from aluminium waste extracted from temporary housing built in the aftermath of Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

“This emphasis on reusing materials is one of a few ways the organizers of this year’s Olympics want to lower the game’s notoriously high environmental impact in the wake of the pandemic.”

As the Tokyo Organizing Committee writes in a pre-games sustainability report: “The COVID-19 crisis has served to remind humanity of the importance of a sustainable society, where the environmental, social, and economic dimensions of our world exist in harmony.”

Mind Body and Green (MBG) identified five sustainable features including: fewer people, as earlier noted due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in Japan, as well as existing protocols.

The most striking are the innovative materials like the recycled torch (lit by torchbearers in uniforms made from recycled plastic bottles), and other Olympic mainstays made from repurposed materials. For instance, the 5,000 Olympic and Paralympic medals are made from e-waste collected around Japan; the podiums will be 3D-printed from recycled plastic, and the athlete’s beds from recycled cardboard. The cardboard frame and the polyethylene mattress that sits on top of it will also be recycled after the games. In fact, the Olympic committee says that 99% of the materials used throughout the games will be reused or recycled through Japan’s top-notch waste-processing system.

Thirdly, are carbon offsets, and in keeping with the Olympics’ goal to be “climate positive” by 2030, the Tokyo committee is working to reduce carbon emissions across the entire event. They’re using renewable energy where possible (some of which will be supplied by a solar power plant in Fukushima, the site of the 2011 earthquake) and operating a fleet of mostly electric or hybrid vehicles. Any unavoidable emissions will be offset in cooperation with Tokyo’s Cap-and-Trade Programme.

Fourthly, is the smart building design. Reports say more than half of this year’s Olympic and Paralympic venues existed before the games. The Olympic committee chose to move away from all-new construction to minimize construction costs and energy use. All the structures that were built for the games will be repurposed afterward, including the Olympic Village itself, which is run on hydrogen power from the Fukushima solar plant. Following the games, it will become Japan’s first hydrogen-powered town and hopefully a model for future communities.

By staging the Tokyo 2020 Games as a ‘sustainable society showcase’ through these initiatives, we hope not only to make the Games more sustainable, but also to share with the world the approaches taken, obstacles faced, and solutions found along the way.

Lastly, there is the forest in its name, as the International Olympic Committee also committed to planting an “Olympic Forest” of 355,000 native trees in Mali and Senegal, to protect the region from desertification. Once mature, the forest is expected to sequester 200,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

“By staging the Tokyo 2020 Games as a ‘sustainable society showcase’ through these initiatives, we hope not only to make the Games more sustainable, but also to share with the world the approaches taken, obstacles faced, and solutions found along the way,” reads the Tokyo sustainability report.

Focusing on the use of hydrogen power, Euronews reported the Tokyo Games opens a new chapter in Japan’s drive towards a sustainable future.

As the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen is clean and light. Most importantly, it produces no carbon dioxide emissions and can be produced using renewable electricity. Energy analysts believe hydrogen offers some of the best potential to reduce or eliminate emissions from airlines, shipping and industry.

“With their immense reach and visibility, the Olympic Games are a great opportunity to demonstrate technologies which can help tackle today’s challenges, such as climate change,” Marie Sallois, Director for Sustainability at the International Olympic Committee, was quoted.

“Tokyo 2020’s showcasing of hydrogen is just one example of how these Games will contribute to this goal.”

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