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How Environmentally Friendly is the Olympic Torch?

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Map depicting the route of the Olympic Flame around the United KingdomCommissioned by a committee promoting a sustainable London 2012 Olympics, one would think that the Olympic Torch would be a low-energy, environmentally friendly torch. This was the original plan, though unfortunately EDF (Olympic sponsors and the company commissioned to design the eco-friendly torch) failed to come up with a suitable design by the deadline. Instead of the half-baked design in the works by EDF, the actual Olympic Torch is composed of butane and propane, which is not especially environmentally friendly. While the plans have been put on the back-bench for 2012, EDF intend to continue working on their environmental Olympic Torch for future events.

But, if the torch is not what we would call ‘environmentally friendly’, how much energy does it actually consume? The torch was to be carried by 8,000 bearers passing through 95% of the UK, as well as lighting the Olympic Cauldron on July 27. Each of those 8,000 bearers will be carrying the torch for up to ten minutes, which means that the maximum number of minutes the torch will be lit for is 80,000 minutes, or 1,333 hours, or 55.5 continuous days. The torch will be travelling through the country for over two months – from May 18 to July 27.

In terms of the rate of energy consumed by the Olympic Torch, a little simple math can help us to figure it out (If the math really doesn’t interest you, feel free to skip this paragraph). The Torch burns 40cm3 of propane per second, which results in 24,000cm3 of propane being burned up by each bearer of the Torch. Across all 8,000 bearers of the torch, this amounts to the equivalent of 6,780 cu. ft. of propane being burned throughout the whole relay. When one cubic foot of propane equates to 2,500 BTUs – or British Thermal Unit – the total BTUs used over the relay is, well, a lot (It’s 16,950,000). When one kilowatt is the same as 3,413 BTUs per hour, the entire relay consumes the equivalent of 4,966 kilowatts.

The 4,966 kilowatts that the Olympic Torch will consume over the stretch of its route is the equivalent of a 40KW bulb – the kind you might have in your bedroom or living room, if you haven’t yet switched to low-energy LED bulbs – burning for 124,158 hours. This is 5173 days, or just over 14 years.

If you want to know how much this adds up to in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, then every MBtu (1,000 British Thermal Units) results in 62.7kg of CO2 emissions. We’re talking about 16.95MBtu, so the Olympic Torch is altogether responsible for 1062.77 kg of CO2 emissions. In other words, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the Olympic Torch is the amount that one tree would take 100 years of growth to absorb.

Granted, it’s not a lot of energy or CO2 in the grand scheme of things, but the torch, as a symbol of the games, was also intended as a symbol of the sustainable agenda of the London Olympics and instead now serves as an embarrassing and high profile thorn in LOCOGs side.


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About Stanley Cooper