This first feature on the third Olympics to be held in the UK will look at some of the more obvious uses of gas – none more so than the Olympic Torch.

The flame was first lit in Greece on 10th May, and arrived in Cornwall a week later, where it then traveled 8,000-miles around Britain in relay ­– before arriving at the Olympic stadium in Stratford, east London tonight.

There it will be used to light the Olympic cauldron that will burn until the end of the Games on 12th August – though the identity of the person who will be given the final honour is just one of the many secrets that Danny Boyle, the opening ceremony’s director, has managed to keep up his sleeve.

But with the pomp and pageantry aside, how have gases featured and shaped the 2012 games into an event that breaks some time-old traditions for the better?

The Olympic Torch

The Torch demonstrates the best of British engineering, design, and manufacturing skill. Internationally acclaimed designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, whose Shoreditch–based studio is less than four-miles from the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, created the torch.

The functionality of the Torch is engineered by Basildon–based Tecosim Technical Simulation and was manufactured by Coventry–based The Premier Group – who have extensive experience working in the aerospace and automotive industries.

Designed with 8,000 circles perforating the Torch, the design was inspired by 8,000 inspirational stories of personal achievement and the contributions of the 8,000 Olympic Torchbearers.

But these laser-cut circles also caused some design issues as it leads, inevitably, to the gas canister and ignition systems being visible to all.

The Olympic Flame, traveling in the torches, is kept alive by a gas burner system contained within the Torch. The final design for the system consists of a valve, regulator and gas canister. The burner system is housed in the inner skin at the top of the Torch body, and is fed by a gas canister that is attached beneath it. 

The selected gas mix of propane and butane was chosen to deliver optimum performance to the flame height, colour robustness and luminosity. EDF and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG). LOCOG worked together on a bespoke fuel that is similar to a proven gas solution used at previous Games.

The Torch works like a hot air balloon as it uses a vapour off-take system, which uses liquid gas from the cylinder found in the base of the Torch. The top of the liquid is heated by a coil, in the top of the burner, which is then heated by the flame which converts the liquid into a gas. The canister is filled with two thirds propane and one third butane.

The Flame has been designed to stay alight for at least 10 minutes and was tested vigorously to ensure it could withstand the variety of climates it would travel through.

In a statement, Stuart Hawker, Managing Director at TECOSIM Technical Simulation Ltd. in the UK, said, “The London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG) specified that the flame had to work at temperatures between -5oC and 40oC as well as in a humidity of 95%, rain, snow and wind speeds up to 35 mph (56 km/h). The flame also needed to successfully resist gusts of wind up to 50 mph (80 km/h) and an altitude of 4,000 feet (1,220 metres).” TECOSIM successfully verified its computer simulation findings for different operating conditions with tests in a state-of-the-art wind tunnel and a cold chamber.

Resistance to an accidental fall was also a key part of the design process as the torch needed to withstand being dropped from a height of 3m. The drop tests performed for this purpose evaluated different scenarios where the torch was pointing in different directions.

“Above all, we tested the effects of a vertical impact on the burner and the lower end of the torch as these scenarios proved to be the least favourable in the preceding computer simulations,” explained Hawker.

Birmingham-based LPG Gas specialists and manufacturers, Bullfinch created the gas canisters for the Torch.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of our Olympic coverage where we look at how gases have featured elsewhere in the Games, from construction to everyday uses.