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What is China doing to create a green Olympics?


The Olympic Games Go Green
The polymer skin used to build the "Water Cube" aquatics center uses NASA technology.
The polymer skin used to build the "Water Cube" aquatics center uses NASA technology.
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Beijing's big cleanup may have run into some snags, but the games remain a lesson in green technology.

The new natural-gas power plant in Beijing that powered the Olympic village creates clean power worth an estimated $100 million in Kyoto Protocol carbon credits [source: Wired]. An estimated 25 percent of all power for Olympic venues came from alternative energy sources like sun and wind [source: AFP]. Just a few of the other green systems in place included:

  • Athletes' showers that were heated by solar power
  • Olympic buildings' plumbing systems that drew on rainwater
  • Street lights lining Olympic areas that used photovoltaic cells
  • New wind turbines that supplied power to Olympic venues

In all, the power savings were as high as 50 percent over conventional power systems [source: AFP]. And the innovations touch on the state-of-the-art, as well: The famous "Water Cube" aquatics center is insulated with a high-efficiency polymer skin called ETFE, which was originally developed for NASA to insulate the space station [source: Design Build Network].

When many athletes chose to train outside Beijing for the Olympic lead-up because of air-quality concerns, the haze over the city took first priority. According to Chinese government officials, air quality in July 2008 improved 20 percent over the previous July [source: New York Times]. The number of acceptable air days in 2007 was 246, compared with 100 in 1998 [source: IHT]. Most sources agree that the amounts of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide in Beijing's air have dropped in last few years. But to the naked eye, the air still looked extraordinarily polluted.

If air quality improved, why the hazy skies? Chinese officials said the summer took its toll. Unusually severe heat and rain, as well as a lack of wind kept the skies from clearing.

For more information on Beijing's "green Olympics" and related topics, sprint to the links on the next page.