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New Energy Insights: How can Hydrogen Fuel Future Olympics in 2024 and 2028?

This is the third article in our Hydrogen Olympics series, exploring the adoption and use of hydrogen at the world’s most famous sporting event.

Following last year's success in Tokyo, the Olympic Commission’s focus has quickly shifted towards future host cities and how those cities may support the Commission’s commitment to building sustainable infrastructure which lasts beyond the Olympic Games itself.

In the second part of our series, we looked at some of the countries that are establishing solid frameworks to build either hydrogen economies or create infrastructure to expedite hydrogen uses in day-to-day life.

In this third part, we consider the potential for the adoption and use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel source in Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028. Recent developments, investments and partnerships established within both cities have opened endless possibilities to ensure the Olympic Games continues to build consensus on sustainable and practical hydrogen uses in large-scale global events.   

Beijing 2022

China was most recently host to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Beijing (also host of the 2008 Olympic Games) has taken the global spotlight regarding the emergence of electric vehicle technologies, and indeed the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games became the standard bearer for the largest use of hydrogen-powered vehicles in Olympic history, bettering the standard set by Tokyo last August. Provided primarily by the city of Zhangjiakou, close to 1,200 hydrogen-powered vehicles were used within the competition zones of the Winter Olympics. This included around 800 buses alongside Toyota’s Mirai cars and vans which transported athletes and staff.  

The implementation and success of these hydrogen vehicles in cooler winter conditions may be more practical in comparison to electric vehicles whose batteries are susceptible to draining faster in colder weather. When temperature drops from 15-20 degrees Celsius to -5, on average, hydrogen fuel cell buses will only lose 23.1% of range as supposed to battery electric buses which lose 37.8%.1 Moreover, refilling a hydrogen vehicle takes less time than recharging an electric vehicle and the Winter Games allowed for the construction of 30 new refuelling stations across the streets of Beijing and Zhangjiakou. 

Paris 2024

In January 2017, the bid committee for the 2024 Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games announced a bold strategy to host the most sustainable Games ever – consistent with the aims of the Paris Climate Agreement. This bold roadmap, set seven years before the Games, was the first indication of Paris building towards an ambitious clean energy target by 2024.

In May 2021, NepTech and EODev were named winners of the ‘Olympic & Paralympic Games Paris 2024 Mobilities call for new passenger shuttles. NepTech designed innovative ships which will transport passengers on the Seine in collaboration with EODev hydrogen solutions which have been developed in conjunction with Toyota.2 This creative collaboration will bring together three major players within hydrogen mobility, with EODev’s maritime hydrogen distribution stations set to be secured in close vicinity to Olympic venues to increase the feasibility of their operation during the Games.

Additionally, HysetCo is a venture partly owned by Toyota Motor Corp and Air Liquide who plan to operate approximately 20 hydrogen stations in Paris by the end of 2024.3

The rollout is intended to supply a growing fleet of hydrogen-powered taxis in Paris, as HysetCo plans to convince 10,000 Parisian taxi drivers driving internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to switch to zero-emission vehicles by the time the Olympic Games are held in France’s capital. The trial process has already begun with HysetCo's recent acquisition of Parisian taxi operation Slota Group. As part of the takeover, 600 diesel taxis will be replaced with Toyota’s Mirai hydrogen-powered cars by the end of 2022. Slota's hydrogen-powered fleet will be operated by HysetCo through its subsidiary Hype, which will be the world’s largest fleet of hydrogen taxis.  

Representatives from Marie de Paris, who overlook the administration of the City of Paris, remain bullish on the role of hydrogen in an emissions-free Paris.  The city has set an ambitious target of only permitting zero-emission vehicles in the French capital by 2030, and an intermediary goal of no diesel vehicles by 2024. HysetCo will actively look to promote the parallel emergence of other relevant hydrogen mobility solutions, to replicate this model in other regions of France after the conclusion of the Paris Olympics.

German company Volocopter has successfully begun test flights of a fully electric Volocity air taxi, intending to be up and running for passenger services for the 2024 Games. There are rough plans to create at least two flight paths to ease traffic congestion by the time the Games roll around. Successful implementation may create a path for countries to begin implementation of light urban taxi services.

Los Angeles 2028

Looking further ahead to Los Angeles in 2028, building an early roadmap to smarter energy solutions and specific uses of hydrogen will help to create an easier path to ensuring its effective implementation.

Los Angeles itself, traditionally defined by bounding long highways and endless lines of cars in traffic, is launching an initiative to cut greenhouse gas production by 25% ahead of the 2028 Olympic Games with the help of major companies such as Tesla, Nissan, BMW and electric bus makers Proterra and BYD.

In July 2021, the Mayors of Namie in Japan and Lancaster in California, signed a Memorandum of Understanding in their respective cities, signifying concrete documentation towards the world’s first bilateral agreement by municipalities to use hydrogen as their green energy strategy.  Termed the ‘Smart Sister Cities’, the collaboration between the two countries further consolidates their positions as trailblazers within municipal clean energy innovation.4 The transition towards clean energy began nearly a decade ago in Lancaster, and in 2019 it was termed as the world’s first net-zero emissions city, having fully transitioned to solar energy.

This ambition has now progressed into a desire to integrate hydrogen power and production at small and large scales across the city. Several industry leaders have already begun investing in Lancaster’s proposed hydrogen-based future like electric bus manufacturer BYD and hydrogen gasification company SGH2. In 2020, Namie became home to the world’s largest solar to hydrogen facility at the time, creating a reliable supply of hydrogen to help light the eternal flame at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

With an eye towards hosting the Olympics later this decade, officials have challenged the city and decision makers in the Los Angeles Olympic Organising Committee to build on hydrogen’s newfound home in the Games. Could Lancaster supply the hydrogen used to fuel the 2028 Olympics?

Projects like the Smart Sister City which focuses on investment in hydrogen infrastructure aim to promote innovative hydrogen-related projects and general engagement in hydrogen-based solutions.  The decision to build on this partnership will look to reinforce hydrogen’s home at future Games.

What next?

We are now just over 2 years and 6 years before the Olympic and Paralympic Games begin in Paris and Los Angeles respectively. Not to be forgotten, 2026 will see the Winter Olympics return to Italy in Milan for the first time since 1956. Whilst the difficulties in reducing costs and generating constant supply of renewable hydrogen remain, future Olympic host cities are encouraged to continue the initiative to develop innovative solutions and create ambitious yet attainable benchmarks.

Whether through internal reform or forming a collaborative partnership with other countries, the potential for the prominent use of hydrogen at every future Olympic Games may become the most impactful and important gold medal victory of all.

 


Matt Baumgurtel leads the New Energy sector team at Hamilton Locke.

Rahul Tijoriwala is a paralegal in Hamilton Locke’s New Energy team.