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Hydrogen is Powering the Olympic Village – Heat, Electric, and Lights That Are a Model of Japanese Innovation

Japan National Stadium/Arne-Müseler

The Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 left a mark on the world in the form of the Shinkansen high-speed train, a feat which this year’s repeat hosts look to match with a vision of the future of civic planning.

While enduring some criticism for going through with the games during COVID-19, Tokyo has presented the world with the first hydrogen-powered Olympics, complete with an entire fleet of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, a hydrogen-powered pair of stadiums, a hotel, and Olympic village.

Hydrogen power, not to be confused with hydro-electric power, is foreseen by some as the obvious renewable energy of the future. As the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen fuel-cells produce no emissions of any kind except for water, which can be used to irrigate agriculture or gardens.

Like most renewables technologies, hydrogen power has had its fair share of growing pains, but with help from Tokyo’s Research Center for a Hydrogen Energy-Based Society (ReHES), established by the city government in the lead-up to the games, these problems can be surmounted.

“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,” says Marie Sallois, Director for Sustainability at the International Olympic Committee.

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

Starting in 2017, Japan became the first nation-state to adopt a national hydrogen strategy, and increased their hydrogen power R&D to around $300 million to fund 2018 and 2019. As part of this push they built one of the largest hydrogen fuel plants in the world in the town of Namie in Fukushima.

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There, 10,000 kilowatts of clean energy produce 900 metric tons of hydrogen per year: Helping power a fleet of 500 hydrogen cars, 100 hydrogen buses, and even hydrogen forklifts. 35 refueling stations have been built around the city.

At the intersection between the Tokyo Bay and heritage zones, the International Olympic Village is the first full-scale hydrogen infrastructure in Tokyo.

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There, hydrogen fuel cells power lights, heating, and hot water to the dormitories and cafeterias which temporarily house 11,000 athletes.

Once the games are concluded, the village will be converted into hydrogen-powered flats, a school, shopping center, and more.

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