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Yet Another Greenhouse Gas

Should we add one more gas to the Kyoto list?

Time to head back into my pillow fort:

Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) can be called the missing greenhouse gas: It is a synthetic chemical produced in industrial quantities; it is not included in the Kyoto basket of greenhouse gases or in national reporting under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); and there are no observations documenting its atmospheric abundance...With 2008 production equivalent to 67 million metric tons of CO2, NF3 has a potential greenhouse impact larger than that of the industrialized nations' emissions of PFCs or SF6, or even that of the world's largest coal-fired power plants.

Yoinks.  So there's at least one greenhouse gas that's NOT recognized by international global warming protocols, but IS a significant climate concern. Great. Just great. Of course, the gas is used in tiny quantities -- but molecule-for-molecule, NF3 is about 17,000 times as potent as CO2 in warming up the atmosphere.

Still, there's a pretty straightforward solution here: just add nitrogen trifluoride to the list of climate-warming pollutants that are covered under any global warming regulatory system or GHG tax.  (Are you listening, WCI? How 'bout you, British Columbia?)

(Editor's note: About 75 percent of NF3 is used for computer microchips, the rest is used for LCD screens.)

[Hat tip to Brandon.]

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"The upper limit of atmospheric concentration of NF3 is estimated to be 0.10 pptv and its contribution to radiative forcing of climate change is negligible" (quoted here). The amount of NF3 released is a very small fraction of the amount produced.

Posted by: mitchell porter on 22 Jul 08

Another authoritative discussion of the relative impact of NF3 can be found here at Real Climate. Bottom line: the coal comparisons are wrong. The net contribution of NF3 is, so far, almost certainly negligible.

Posted by: KC on 23 Jul 08

Yes, let's remember that most hated of arithmetic operations: division. We emit ~30 Gigatons of CO2 per year (~8GtC). 67 million/30 billion = ~ 1/500 = not worth freaking out over as long as anyone is still building coal fired power plants.

Posted by: Zane Selvans on 24 Jul 08



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