Canada Olympics: A challenge for the NH3 refrigeration system

By Sabine Lobnig, Aug 21, 2009, 13:16 2 minute reading

Six months before the Winter Olympics, icemeisters and refrigeration experts are testing the refrigeration system and consistence of the resulting ice at all venues to withstand a combination of high pressure, gravity, midday sun, snow, and rain. Optimising the huge ammonia-refrigerated track at the Whistler Sliding Centre is a special challenge, the New York Times reports.

When the Winter Olympics in Vancouver will be inaugurated on 12 February 2010, most of the millions of fans travelling to Canada will not spend a single thought about the ice carrying the Olympic competitions. However, six months before, so-called “icemeisters” and refrigeration experts are busy with solving what seems to be a great challenge given the Olympic sites’ geographic location and meteorological conditions: the ice. Beyond usual challenges in constructing ice surfaces to meet the needs of different sports in different arenas, Vancouver’s location presents a twist, with its combination of sea-level elevation and high humidity, unique among Winter Olympic host cities. To find the right settings of the refrigeration systems, the thickness of the ice and its elements, ice experts are overseeing a busy calender of events and training sessions to test the limits of the refrigeration systems, and analyse the effects of spectators in the building and athletes on the ice.

About half of the Olympics will take place on carefully crafted ice between one and two inches thick. Temperature, texture, composition, and even colour of the ice surface must have the exact properties at the right time, and maintain them throughout the games, under all circumstances.

NH3 System for bobsled, luge and skeleton a challenge

The Whistler Sliding centre, nearly a mile long, starts at an elevation of 3,080 feet and drops to 2,585 feet. In February, snow and rain will sometimes occur at the top and at the bottom, respectively. The track’s straight parts are U-shaped. High-banked curves are C-shaped, arcing up to about 15 feet to a gravity-defying overhang to accommodate speeds of more than 95 miles an hour. Where some parts will angle towards the midday sun, others will always remain in the shadow. Given these challenging geographic, meteorological, and use conditions, the right calibration of the refrigeration system lies at the heart of efforts to ensure a constant high quality of the ice. The ice needs to be thick enough to absorb abuse from sliders experiencing more than 5 Gs of force around the corner. At the same time, it needs to be thin enough to let the NH3 refrigeration system balance inconsistencies above it.

The serpentine track is cooled by an ammonia plant with 122 evaporators, 1,400 tonnes of refrigeration, and a total flow rate of refrigerant going up tracks of 305 US GPM. 20% of the heat capture from its refrigeration will be used, where in the future it might also be connected to a district heating and cooling system. The sliding centre will host all bobsleigh, luge and skeleton competitions.


By Sabine Lobnig

Aug 21, 2009, 13:16

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